South Korea approves arrest of Samsung's leader

The reported ruling reverses last month's decision to not arrest Samsung Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee for alleged bribery.

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Samsung's de facto leader may be facing jail time.

A South Korean court on Friday (Korea time) approved a warrant for the arrest of Jay Y. Lee, the acting head of Samsung Group, in connection with a political scandal in the country, according to reports from Dow Jones and the Associated Press. Lee has been accused of bribing the suspended South Korean president, Park Geun-hye.

The move reverses a decision from last month where the Seoul Central District Court in South Korea rejected a request for an arrest warrant for Lee, Samsung's 48-year-old vice chairman. Along with bribery, Lee has also been accused of embezzlement and perjury.

Lee had been waiting for the decision at a Seoul detention center, Bloomberg reported. He will remain there because of the arrest warrant, the publication said. It may take as long as 18 months for a trial or verdict, Bloomberg said. "There's a chance the suspect could destroy evidence or flee, so arresting him is appropriate," a court spokesperson told Bloomberg.

Samsung said in a statement: "We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings."

Samsung Group, the parent company of Samsung Electronics, became ensnared in the "Choi-gate" corruption probe facing Park a few months ago. Its offices have been raided several times on suspicion that the presidential office influenced the decision by South Korea's state-run pension fund to back Samsung's merger plan last year.

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 Chairman Kun-Hee Lee has been in poor health for the past couple of years, and his only son, Jay Y. Lee, has assumed responsibility overseeing the conglomerate that makes up more than a fifth of South Korea's gross domestic product. The younger Lee was handpicked by his father to one day take control of the company. An investigation -- or even worse, a prosecution -- by the South Korean government could delay those plans.

Samsung has said it made the payments 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.

A judge in mid-January declined to issue a warrant for Lee's arrest because of lack of evidence. Lee was called into court for 15 hours of questioning on Monday, Bloomberg said. A spokesman for the special prosecutor told the publication Friday (Korea time) that "they found evidence of Lee concealing profit gained through criminal acts and hiding assets overseas."

Update, 2:20 p.m. PT: Adds more background.

Update, 3 p.m. PT: Adds Samsung comment.

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