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Samsung chief's trial to begin on bribery, embezzling charges

The trial, set to start Thursday, could upend the company and the country, according to Reuters.

The trial of Jay Y. Lee, Samsung's interim leader, is set to begin soon.

Chung Sung-Jun, Getty Images

Samsung's de facto leader, Jay Y. Lee, is set to stand trial this week on charges of embezzlement and of bribing South Korea's embattled president, according to Reuters.

Special prosecutor Park Young-soo detailed the outcome of the investigation into Samsung's interim boss on Monday at a press conference, just days before Lee's trial is expected to begin on Thursday, the news agency reported.

"Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong colluded with others including the corporate strategy office chief Choi Gee-sung to bribe the president and Choi Soon-sil with an aim to receive support for his succession by embezzling corporate funds," Reuters reported special prosecutor Park told the press conference.

Lee, 48, was formally charged last week with bribery in connection with a political-corruption scandal in South Korea that has already led to the impeachment and suspension of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. A decision on her presidency could come as early as this week, Reuter reported. The president and Choi have denied any wrongdoing.

Samsung Group and Lee also maintain his innocence.

"We disagree with the special prosecutor's findings," a spokesperson said in a statement. "Samsung has not paid bribes nor made improper requests seeking favors. Future court proceedings will reveal the truth."

At issue is whether millions in donations Samsung made to two foundations controlled by President Park's friend and confidant, Choi Soon-sil, were bribes to get the South Korean pension fund to back a merger between two of Samsung Group's holding companies. The merger strengthened the Lee family's control over Samsung.

Samsung has said it made the payments to Choi's foundations but denied they were made in exchange for political favors. Choi has denied taking any part in the merger, while Lee has testified that he didn't play a role in Samsung's decision to make $17 million in donations to Choi.

Special prosecutor Park said Lee committed perjury when he claimed to have not taken part in Samsung's donations to Choi, according to Bloomberg. Samsung executives also created fake contracts to create a facade around bribes, prosecutors said.

Lee has been slated to take over the company since his father Kun-Hee Lee was hospitalized in 2014 following a heart attack. The move by the South Korean court to indict Lee raises questions about his future at the company.

Samsung said last month that it would strengthen its rules on financial donations to increase transparency in the wake of Lee's charges. The company said it will now require financial donations and funding for corporate social responsibility of 1 billion won ($884,000) or more to be approved by the board of directors. Previously, only payments representing 0.5 percent of shareholder equity -- 680 billion won or more -- required board approval.

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