New officials to testify in Samsung bribery case

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New officials to testify in Samsung bribery case

Former members of the Park Geun-hye Blue House are scheduled to appear in the bribery trial of Samsung leader Lee Jae-yong today to testify about new evidence regarding the impeached president’s support for the conglomerate’s generational power shift.

A prosecutor and a public servant of the Ministry of Health and Welfare have been summoned to appear as witnesses at today’s hearing at the Seoul Central District Court. The two officials were dispatched to serve in the office of the senior secretary for civil affairs during the Park administration and have returned to their original jobs. They are expected to testify about the paper trails of the Park Blue House, which the independent counsel team of Park Young-soo submitted to the court as new evidence on Friday.

The 48-year-old tycoon was indicted in February on charges of offering bribes worth 43 billion won ($38 million) to Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, in return for help in solidifying his control over Samsung Group. Throughout the trial, which began in April, Lee argued that Samsung was extorted to give the money, which mostly comprised contributions to foundations Choi controlled.

The independent counsel, which acts as the prosecution in the trial, submitted 16 new pieces of evidence on Friday, taken from among the documents left behind by the Park administration and recently found inside cabinets in the Blue House. The office of President Moon Jae-in has reviewed them and offered copies of some records to the special prosecutors earlier this month.

Some of the documents offered to the independent counsel are related to a crucial vote by the government-run National Pension Service to support a controversial 2015 merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.

The $8 billion merger played a key role in Samsung’s third-generation transfer of control by solidifying Lee’s grip on Samsung Electronics. Defeating a campaign to block the planned merger by a U.S. hedge fund, Elliott Management Corp, shareholders of Samsung C&T approved its takeover by Cheil Industries on July 17, 2015. The National Pension Service was Samsung C&T’s largest shareholder.

According to the independent counsel, some of the records discussed plans to help Samsung Group engineer the power shift and their copies were submitted as evidence in Lee’s trial. The independent counsel said the new evidence proves that the Park Blue House was aware of Samsung’s main concerns after Chairman Lee Kun-hee became ill.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office also took testimony from the prosecutor who was dispatched to the Park Blue House. The prosecutor, only identified by his surname, Lee, reportedly told the prosecution he authored some of the documents. The welfare ministry public servant, identified as Choi, was also involved in producing the documents.

Lee told the prosecution that Woo Byung-woo, then civil affairs secretary of the Park Blue House, ordered him and other staffers in the office to create reports on Samsung issues during the second half of 2014, prosecution sources told the JoongAng Ilbo. Woo received briefings throughout the record production and gave feedback, Lee testified to the prosecution.

Lee’s testimony was also submitted to the court as evidence, the independent counsel said. The court will confirm with Lee and Choi today if they were actually involved in the creation of the reports and, if so, why they did it.

On his way to his own abuse of power trial on Monday, Woo denied giving such an order.

As the witness testimony was newly added to Lee’s trial, its entire schedule has subsequently been rearranged. The court initially planned to hear closing arguments on Aug. 4, but delayed this to Aug. 7 by accepting requests form the independent counsel and Lee’s lawyers for more witnesses. Former President Park, who refused to attend two previous hearings as a witness, will be called again on Aug. 2.

BY SER MYO-JA, YOON HO-JIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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