Samsung heir denies involvement in key merger in corruption trial

SEOUL-- Jailed Samsung Group scion Lee Jae-yong denied his involvement in the merger of two group units on Wednesday in his first court interrogation on corruption charges in connection with a scandal that removed President Park Geun-hye from office early this year.

Lee was arrested on Feb. 17 on charges of giving and pledging some 43 billion won (US$38.2 million) to two foundations controlled by Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil in exchange for government backing on the merger of Samsung C and T Corp. and Cheil Industries Inc. in 2015.

The prosecution accuses Lee of soliciting a favor from the former president to pull off the merger to cement his control in the conglomerate. The state-funded National Pension Service (NPS), which owns a major stake in Samsung C and T, was seen as holding the casting vote.

The 49-year-old Samsung Electronics Co. vice chairman, dressed in a suit, made his first testimony during the 50th session of his trial that began in April.

Lee denied that he was ever in a position to make management decisions, since he never belonged to the now-disbanded group control tower, the Future Strategy Office.

He stressed that the decision to merge the two units was made by the office and he only followed the advice by the office's head, Choi Gee-sung, in carrying out the merger.

"I have no knowledge of the business that Samsung C and T and Cheil Industries were involved in. The merger was carried out by the executives of the Future Strategy Office," Lee said.

He argued that his scope of work and power was strictly confined to Samsung Electronics, the crown jewel of the conglomerate.

"I never belonged to the Future Strategy Office," Lee said. "I've belonged to Samsung Electronics and 95 percent of my work was related to Samsung Electronics and its related affiliates."

But he mentioned that he began to have "a few more jobs" as the group's representative since his father and the group's patriarch Lee Kun-hee was incapacitated after having a heart attack in 2014.

"Since then I tried to study other affiliates and I started having more interest and feeling more responsible."

The merger made Lee the largest shareholder in the combined entity, now just called Samsung C and T, which in turn holds a controlling stake in Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest smartphone maker.

The scion of South Korea's richest conglomerate also faces a string of other accusations including embezzlement, perjury and hiding assets overseas. Part of Samsung's contribution was sponsoring the equestrian training of Chung Yoo-ra, Choi's 21-year-old daughter, in Germany.

The prosecution is expected to deliver its sentencing request on Lee on Monday and the court will deliver its verdict later this month.

Earlier in the day, co-defendant Choi Gee-sung took the stand in court, defending his boss by saying that he approved of Samsung's sponsorship for Chung at his discretion.

"I thought if it becomes a problem, I'll take the blame and quit. I've worked (for Samsung) for 40 years," he said.

He also denied the prosecution's claim that the sponsorship was eventually intended for Samsung's leadership transfer, saying that "the vice chairman is already being recognized as the successor in and outside."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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