Seoul: South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye colluded with her friend Choi Soon-sil to receive bribes from Samsung Group aimed at cementing Samsung Chief Jay Y. Lee’s control of the conglomerate, the special prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
The conclusion paved the way for state prosecutors to investigate Park if she is removed from office by the Constitutional Court reviewing her impeachment and possibly indict her for bribery and blacklisting artists and writers.
In a statement detailing the findings of its investigation, the special prosecutor’s office said the National Pension Service voted in favour of a merger of two Samsung Group affiliates in 2015, despite anticipating a 138.8 billion won (Dh440 million or $119.87 million) loss.
“Samsung Group vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong colluded with others including the corporate strategy office chief Choi Gee-sung to bribe the president and Choi Soon-sil with an aim to receive support for his succession by embezzling corporate funds,” special prosecutor Park Young-soo told a televised news conference, referring to the Samsung chief’s Korean name.
Lee, 48, pledged 43 billion won ($37.19 million) in return for support from Park and Choi for a variety of steps including a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 and the 2016 domestic listing of a loss-making drug maker Samsung Biologics CFO Ltd, the special prosecutor said.
Park, Choi and Lee have all denied wrongdoing.
President Park’s lawyer said on Monday that the special prosecutor’s charge against her was “fiction” and that she did not receive illicit favours from Samsung.
“Future court proceedings will reveal the truth,” Samsung said in a statement, reiterating it did not pay bribes or make improper requests seeking favours.
The investigation looked into an influence-peddling scandal involving Park, who was impeached by parliament in December after accusations she had colluded with her long-time friend Choi to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back the president’s policy initiatives.
The 65-year-old daughter of a former military strongman has had her powers suspended. The Constitutional Court will rule on whether to uphold parliament’s December impeachment of Park. The court is expected to hand down its decision sometime this month.
Should it uphold the impeachment, Park would become the country’s first democratically elected president to be thrown out of office and spark an election in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
South Korean law does not allow a sitting president to be indicted. No formal charges can be brought against her until she is either removed from office or her term ends as scheduled in late February of 2018.
Her removal from office would subject her to a fresh investigation by state prosecutors, who have been handed the record from the special prosecutor’s office that has named her as a suspect on charges laid to Choi and Samsung chief Lee.
“Bribery charges related to the president, and the culture blacklist case ... have been transferred to the prosecutors’ office,” special prosecutor Park said.
The special prosecutor also said the president was instrumental in blacklisting more than 9,000 artists, authors and movie industry professionals and excluding them from government assistance that constituted an abuse of power.
Lee, a third-generation leader of the Samsung tech giant “chaebol”, and four other executives, were last week charged with bribery and embezzlement over the corruption scandal.
Based on the main charges levied against Lee, he could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted.