Only evidence countsLee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and de facto head of the country’s largest conglomerate, was grilled by an independent counsel suspecting he had used corporate money to bribe President Park Geun-hye through her controversial friend Choi Soon-sil. The questioning was necessary to build a bribery case on Park and her inner circle, but it is unfortunate that the head of a global corporate enterprise like Samsung has become implicated in such a messy corruption case.
The independent counsel suspects Lee has committed bribery. It connects Samsung’s generous funding for Choi and her family, including the purchase of a horse for Choi’s daughter in return for the National Pension Fund’s support for the 2015 merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.
Samsung claims that it supported the equestrian association because it had been intimidated and pressured by the presidential office and Choi and did not expect anything in return. Lee made the same testimony to the independent counsel as he told state prosecutors and at parliamentary hearing. The chief of Samsung Electronics’ Future Strategy Office reiterated the same comment at his questioning by independent counsel.
The counsel team and Samsung are locking horns with their opposing positions. Evidence would be crucial for a party to get the upper hand.
The independent counsel must secure as much evidence and testimonies as possible to build its case. It needs decisive evidence pointing to Park and Choi working as one to slap bribery charges on the two. But at the same time, it must not be too blinded by its goal to lose balance and judgment.
The independent counsel also has expanded its investigation into other chaebol. The next target would be SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won, who was released from prison through the 2015 presidential pardon. The independent counsel secured a recording of a conversation between a senior SK executive and Chey in a jail, in which the executive told Chey that the president has asked for commitments in return for a special pardon.
The independent counsel plans to seek arrest warrants for chaebol chiefs under suspicion. Collusive business and political ties must be punished. But it must be done based on facts. From the process so far, however, the counsel team appears to be hounding corporate heads to get to the president.
The court judgment will be pivotal. It must deliver a balanced ruling on the opposing claims.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 13, Page 30