Indie counsel plans to look into other chaebol

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Indie counsel plans to look into other chaebol

An independent counsel team investigating a bribery charge involving Samsung, President Park Geun-hye and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, will expand its probe to other conglomerates.

Independent Counsel Park Young-soo and his team have been looking into the political scandal involving Park, Choi and conglomerates, which led to the impeachment of the president in December. The first target of the ambitious investigation was the allegation that Park and Choi pressured the state-run pension fund to support a controversial merger of Samsung Group’s two units in 2015.

The investigators suspect that Samsung’s generous sponsorship for Choi’s daughter’s equestrian training and massive donations to the two nonprofit foundations that Choi practically controlled were in return for the president’s influence on the National Pension Service to back the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. The deal allowed the generational ownership transfer of Samsung by solidifying heir apparent Lee Jae-yong’s grip on Samsung Electronics. The pension fund was the largest shareholder of Samsung C&T at the time.

When asked if more conglomerates will be investigated for bribery charges, Lee Kyu-chul, assistant independent counsel and spokesman for the investigation team, said, “I believe investigations will take place.”

When asked if the bribery allegation of SK Group will be investigated, Lee said, “I think that is probably a target.”

Last year, the prosecution had an initial probe into the Park-Choi scandal, but suspended the investigation into SK Group’s alleged bribery after the independent counsel team was formally launched. Lee said the independent counsel will pick the investigation up from there.

He added that the law governing the independent counsel allows the team to go after conglomerates other than Samsung. Speculation was high that the SK and Lotte Groups will become the next targets after the counsel concludes the investigation into Samsung.

SK Group contributed a total of 11.1 billion won ($9.3 million) for the two foundations; Lotte Group paid a total of 4.5 billion won. Samsung Group was the largest benefactor with 20.4 billion won of contributions.

Suspicions were raised that SK Group’s donation was in return for the presidential pardon for Chairman Chey Tae-won. Chey, convicted of embezzlement and corporate malpractices, was pardoned in August last year, after the group’s top executive had a one-on-one meeting with President Park in the previous month.

Lotte Group was accused of making the donations as a part of its lobbying activities to win a duty free license.

The independent counsel summoned Lim Dai-ki, president of Cheil Worldwide Inc., Friday afternoon and questioned him about his role in Samsung’s suspected bribing of Choi. Lim was accused of delivering Samsung’s 1.6 billion won of funds to a winter sports education program operated by Choi’s nephew, Jang Si-ho.

More Samsung executives are expected to be summoned next week.

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