Samsung’s Lee says ex-leader rebuked him for not helping equestrian body

SEOUL-- The scion of Samsung Group standing trial for bribery charges said Thursday he was reproached by former President Park Geun-hye for feeble support for an equestrian-promoting body with ties to the massive scandal that toppled Park from power.

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., said he had not realized at that time she could have meant ramping up funding for Chung Yoo-ra, a dressage rider and the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, Park's longtime friend accused of influence-peddling.

"I didn't think of it that way," he told the court.

Lee is charged with paying or promising to pay at least 43 billion won (US$32 million) to two foundations allegedly controlled by Choi and through sponsorship of Chung's equestrian training.

Continuing his defense from the five-hour court interrogation a day earlier, the 49-year-old defendant said he did not bribe Park or Choi, in return for government backing on his leadership succession at South Korea's biggest conglomerate.

He maintained his claim that he never knew or heard of Choi and Chung, and that Chung was the main recipient of the sponsorship, until the scandal broke in media reports last year.

The special counsel investigating the high-profile case has argued that the funding was intended to gain government support for the merger of two Samsung units in 2015, a deal that helped Lee tighten his grip on the sprawling business empire founded by his grandfather.

The Samsung heir had three one-on-one meetings with Park between 2014 and early 2016.

Lee said Park never asked him about his succession in the group, nor had she spoken a word about the merger deal. He also denied the special counsel's claim that Park thanked him in their last meeting for "helping Chung."

The latter part of the court interrogation was followed by questioning from the judge panel. One of the judges asked him why he told Park Sang-jin, a Samsung Electronics executive who served as the head of the Korea Equestrian Federation, to "take care of the equestrian funding."

Lee said, "I could not fully disregard the president's request."

The judge asked him what kind of disadvantages Samsung would get if he gave her the wrong impression. He said: "I've never thought of getting anything (from the president) that would be detrimental to the business. I just thought the chief (head of the control tower Future Strategy Office) would handle everything."

The court interrogation of Lee was wrapped up around noon. The special counsel is expected to deliver its sentencing request for him in the final trial Monday, after more than 50 sessions which first began in April.

The court will hand down its verdict on Lee later this month.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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