Prosecutors in South Korea demanded a 12-year jail term for Jay Y. Lee, accusing the billionaire vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. of bribing a presidential confidante to increase his control over the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips.
Lee has been in detention since February and is the highest-profile business figure drawn into a scandal that led to the ouster of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The 49-year-old Lee has denied all charges, arguing he did not even know who the confidante was until after Samsung executives bought horses for an agency run to benefit her equestrian daughter.
“We have an opportunity to establish the rule of law,” special prosecutor Park Young-soo said. “The defendants have colluded with power to seek personal interests, turning their backs on people’s wish to shed light on the truth behind the scandal.”
Lee has overseen South Korea’s biggest conglomerate since 2014 when his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack. In 2015, the group pushed through a merger between two of its units, giving the heir fresh shares in Samsung C&T Corp., a major shareholder in Samsung Electronics. The deal, which was opposed by investor Paul Elliott Singer, gained approval after it got backing from the government-run National Pension Service.
Lee said in testimony last week that his executives pushed the merger and that he never sought to unseat his hospitalized father as chairman of Samsung Electronics. Prosecutors have alleged Lee knew about Park’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and used that knowledge to plot a succession path that would ensure his control over Samsung without having to pay billions of dollars in inheritance taxes.
Park, who has been detained on charges of corruption and abuse of power, has denied seeking bribes for her friend. Both Park and Choi have refused to testify at Lee’s trial.
Lee is scheduled to be released in late August unless he’s convicted and receives a prison sentence. In the Korean judicial system, prosecutors demand a sentence before a verdict. A panel of three judges will decide Lee’s verdict and no jury has been involved in Lee’s case.
During Lee’s absence, Samsung has released the Galaxy S8 smartphone to rebound from its Note 7 recall last year and posted a record profit on the back of its semiconductor sales.