Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s vice chairman and the company’s current acting leader, has officially been arrested on charges that he attempted to bribe the president of South Korea. Lee became the acting leader of Samsung in 2014 after his father, company chairman Lee Kun-hee, was incapacitated due to a heart attack.
The country’s Seoul Central District Court approved a warrant to arrest Lee, after a request from the special prosecutor’s office was made earlier this week. Those prosecutors have claimed Lee sent 43 billion won ($36 million) from some of Samsung’s subsidiaries to two foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, an aide to South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Those prosecutors also claim the payments were part of a plan so that Park would help Lee support a merger of two of Samsung Group’s holding companies. That merger helped to give more control of Samsung over to Lee’s family. Park ended up being impeached in December as part of this scandal.
Both Lee and Park have previously denied all wrongdoing in this case, and Lee claims he was forced to make the donations to the foundations. The special prosecutor’s office asked the courts to arrest Lee back in January, but that request was ultimately rejected. Since then, the prosecutor’s office stated it has found more evidence against Lee, and it would appear that this time, the court agreed it was enough to issue the arrest warrant.
Officially, Lee has been charged with embezzlement, bribery, perjury, concealment of criminal proceeds and illicit transfer of assets abroad. After the court’s decision, Lee was placed behind bars inside the Seoul Detention Center. However, it’s expected that it might take up to 18 months before his trial begins and a verdict is reached. The special prosecutor’s office had also requested the court this week to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung Electronics President Park Sang-jin, but that request was rejected today.
This new development comes even as Samsung tries to get out from under the disastrous recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. The company will likely reveal a new Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab S3, in less than two weeks at MWC 2017. It is rumored to officially announce its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, in late March ahead of its launch in mid-April.