Samsung execs face questioningA crucial week began Monday in the trial of Samsung leaders’ alleged bribery of former President Park Geun-hye, as top executives, including Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of the conglomerate, are scheduled to testify.
Following the largest-ever independent counsel investigation, five former and current Samsung executives were indicted in February for having offered or promised massive bribes to Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil. The bribes totaled more than 43 billion won ($38.4 million).
The trial began in April at the Seoul Central District Court. Two former Samsung Electronics executives, Park Sang-jin and Hwang Sung-soo took the stand on Monday.
Park and Hong once served as chairman and vice chairman of the Korea Equestrian Federation, and were accused of having arranged the generous training sponsorship of Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra.
They were also suspected of consulting with Choi to conceal the bribery allegation.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee is scheduled to be questioned today, as well as two other former Samsung executives, Choi Gee-sung and Chang Choong-ki.
It will be the first time for Lee to take the stand to give a specific testimony in his bribery trial.
On July 10, Lee was summoned as a witness in Park’s trial and exercised his right to remain silent throughout the questioning. “I should faithfully answer all questions in this courtroom to lay bare the truth, but I cannot do so at the advice of my counsel,” Lee said at the time. “I am extremely sorry for being no help for a smooth operation of this trial.”
The independent counsel is expected to question Lee about his three one-on-one meetings with Park between 2014 and 2016.
The independent counsel suspects that in the meetings they discussed Park’s plan to support Lee’s attempt to solidify control over Samsung Group in a third-generation power shift as well as Samsung’s support for two foundations that Park and Choi practically controlled and sponsorship for Chung’s equestrian training.
The Park Blue House was accused of forcing the National Pension Service to use its voting power to allow a controversial merger in 2015 that cemented Lee’s control over Samsung.
Paper trails created by Park aides during her presidency, which were left behind and recently discovered, were submitted to the court as evidence.
Samsung, however, denied that the Lee-Park meetings discussed favors or bribes. The lawyers said there was no proof that Lee and Park had such a conversation and that the independent counsel was acting based on an assumption.
On Monday, the independent counsel also submitted verdicts from the trials of former Park aides who were convicted last week of having kept a blacklist of cultural figures who were critical of the government, in order to bar them from state support.
The independent counsel said the verdicts prove there was collusion between Park and Choi, and the court accepted them as new evidence.
Proving that Park and Choi are co-conspirators is a key challenge for the independent counsel.
Under the current law governing bribery, a public servant is considered guilty for receiving a bribe only when the money is linked to his or her job.
All Samsung’s support was offered to Choi, and the independent counsel has argued that Park and Choi are co-conspirators.
The court said it will call Park as a witness in Lee’s trial on Wednesday, but the possibility is high that she will not show up. She had previously rejected summons twice and visited a hospital for medical treatment on Friday.
The court said it will allow the independent counsel to continue questioning the defendants on Wednesday, if it needs more time.
The court added it will allow the independent counsel and Samsung lawyers to have their final debates over key issues on Thursday and Friday, a measure rarely allowed in ordinary criminal trials, before hearing the two sides’ final arguments on Monday.
It normally takes two to three weeks for the judge to deliberate. The ruling and sentencing are expected to come at the end of August as the detention warrant for Lee will expire on Aug. 27.
BY SER MYO-JA, KIM SUN-MI [email@example.com]