South Korean investigators seek arrest of Samsung heir again

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean prosecutors are attempting for a second time to arrest Samsung's de facto leader, who is being investigated on bribery allegations in connection with a massive political scandal.

Special prosecutors investigating the influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of the country's president said Tuesday they have asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics. They also are seeking an arrest warrant for Samsung Electronics president Park Sang-jin, who oversees the company's external relations.

Both Samsung executives are being investigated on charges of bribery offering, embezzlement and hiding assets overseas. Lee is being investigated on an additional charge of perjury, the prosecution office said without elaborating.

Seoul Central District Court said it will hold a hearing on Thursday to review the request to issue an arrest warrant citing those crimes.

Samsung has "never" offered bribes to the president expecting something in return nor has it sought wrongful favors, the company said.

"We will do our best so that the truth will be revealed in court," it said in an emailed statement.

An earlier attempt by prosecutors to arrest Lee, the heir to the Samsung Group, was rejected last month by a court that found insufficient evidence at that point to justify his arrest.

At that time, the prosecutors argued that the 48-year-old billionaire offered a bribe of $36 million to President Park Geun-hye and her long-time friend to win government support for a controversial merger.

The merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries in 2015 was opposed by minority shareholders, who said it would benefit the Samsung founding family while hurting other shareholders. Samsung narrowly secured shareholder approval, thanks in part to support from the National Pension Fund, its key investor. The pension fund's current chief was arrested last year on suspicion of pressuring the fund to back the merger, which helped Lee increase his influence in Samsung Electronics without spending any of his money.

Lee admitted that Samsung transferred funds to a company and foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, President Park's confidante, but denied allegations that he expected to win any government favors.

In seeking Lee's arrest for the second time, the prosecutors said the Samsung heir is being investigated on additional charges. They will share those details during a news briefing on Wednesday.

The prosecutors have until Feb. 28 to investigate the massive corruption scandal unless parliament extends the deadline.

South Korean media reports said the prosecutors have been looking at whether Samsung purchased a costly horse for Choi's daughter, who is an equestrian, an allegation that Samsung has denied.

The investigators have also reportedly looked at whether South Korea's fair trade commission gave any favors to Samsung related to a complex cross-shareholding structure that allows the Lee family to exert an outsized influence on Samsung Electronics and its dozens of affiliates, while holding a small stake. The anti-trust regulator was raided earlier this month by prosecutors.

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