J.Y. Lee, Samsung
J.Y. Lee (left), the all-powerful Samsung chief, is no stranger to being caught up in legal troubles. Tuesday's indictment places his company in an extremely tenuous position on the reputation side. Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: South Korea's prosecutors indicted Samsung Electronics Co.'s de facto leader Jay Y. Lee on allegations including stock manipulation, potentially putting the head of the world's largest electronics corporation on trial for years.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office indicted 11 people, including Lee and former Samsung executives. Charges include the violation of capital market laws and the audit law as well as the breach of duty.

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The decision to indict Lee defies the recommendation of a civil panel and adds to the legal challenges for the country's most valuable company. Such trials can take as long as 18 months and could stretch another two years if the case is ultimately decided by the country's top court.

Constant legal spotlight

Lee has been embroiled for years in legal scandals that rocked the country and led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. Special prosecutors first indicted him in early 2017 on charges of bribery and corruption, alleging Samsung provided horses and other payments to a confidante of Park in exchange for government support in his succession. He spent about a year in jail before going free in February 2018.

But in August 2019, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision to suspend the mogul's sentence and ordered a retrial of the whole case. The new indictment is related and centres on whether Lee and Samsung used illegal means to help him take control of the group founded by his grandfather.

The prosecutors' decision comes weeks after a panel of 13 citizens recommended that prosecutors stop their probe into Samsung's succession and not indict Lee. The panel's decision was not binding, but reflected at least some public support for the country's most important company.

The prosecutors had been expected to indict Lee despite the recommendation. They have conducted a broad investigation, including hundreds of summons and dozens of office searches.

Wheeling and dealing

Separate from the original bribery investigation but also related to succession, prosecutors have probed a controversial merger between two Samsung Group's units in 2015 and alleged accounting fraud that may have helped Lee's efforts to gain control. Once a new trial begins, Lee may need to attend twice a week until the court reaches a verdict.

Samsung's shares were largely unchanged in Seoul.