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South Korea won't arrest Samsung heir apparent in corruption scandal

Jay Y. Lee has been accused of using bribery in exchange for political favors.


Jay Y. Lee, vice chairman of Samsung, arrives at the Seoul Central District Court on Thursday, local time. The court declined to arrest him in connection with the corruption scandal in South Korea.

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Samsung's vice chairman should sleep a little easier tonight.

The Seoul Central District Court in South Korea on Thursday (local Korea time) rejected a request to issue an arrest warrant for Jay Y. Lee, the acting head of Samsung Group, in connection with a political scandal in the country, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, a South Korean special prosecutor had asked for an arrest warrant to be issued for Lee for allegedly bribing the suspended South Korean president, Park Geun-hye.

Samsung said in a statement that "we appreciate the fact that the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention."

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 some responsibilities 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.

Having its leader named as a bribery suspect is the last thing Samsung needs right now. The company continues to dig itself out of the troubles from the massive recall of its defective Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.

In a public hearing Monday, Choi denied taking any part in the merger. "Even if I knew, I could not have passed on any information because I have no knowledge about mergers or hedge funds, anything like that, in the first place," she said, according to Reuters.

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