Early on 17 February 2017, Samsung Group chief Jay Y Lee was arrested early over his alleged role in a corruption scandal. The scandal involves the highest levels of the South Korean government.
Last month, the same court had rejected a request to arrest Lee. But after additional charges (including bribery) were brought up against him, prosecutors sought his arrest again.
What is the political scandal about?
2016 was a tumultuous year for South Korea. The National Assembly (South Korea’s legislature) impeached the President, Park Geun-Hye, following revelations of corruption involving her friend Choi Soon-Sil.
Choi was branded as “the shadow President” for influencing Government decisions. Presently, Park retains the title of President while the Constitutional Court reviews the impeachment motion, but her unpopularity has split the ruling Saenuri Party.
Jay Lee’s involvement
Reuters reported that prosecutors have accused Samsung of paying $37.74 million in bribes to organisations linked to Choi Soon-Sil to secure the government’s backing for a merger of two Samsung units. That funding includes Samsung’s funding of Choi’s daughter, who is in detention in Denmark, having been on a South Korean wanted list.
Previously, in December 2016, the heads of South Korea’s top companies – including Samsung – were questioned in a parliamentary investigation into the scandal.
The decision was announced about 10 hours after Lee had left the court. “We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest,” the judge said in his ruling.
“We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings,” the Samsung Group said in a brief statement after Lee’s arrest.
Lee’s arrest adds to Samsung’s recent woes which have affected its market share and value. This includes last year’s humiliating fiasco involving the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.