The de facto head of South Korea's top conglomerate, Samsung Group, flatly denied an illicit money-for-favor exchange with ex-president Park Geun-hye in his first court hearing, insisting charges against him were based on assumption.
The hearing at a Seoul court was attended by Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee and four other senior Samsung Group executives. Lee, 48, was arrested in February on multiple charges including bribery and embezzlement.
Prosecutor accused Lee of providing bribes in an attempt to facilitate the succession of Samsung's leadership, but he said through his lawyers that such accusations were based on "assumption and a jump of logic".
No strings have been attached to Samsung's cash donation to entities controlled by Park's crony, Choi Soo-sil, the lawyers said, arguing there was no need for Lee to use bribes for the transfer of power from his bed-ridden father, Lee Kun-hee, because the son's groupwide leadership was already strong before a corruption scandal surfaced in October last year.
The scandal fanned public sentiment against corporate donations, which have long been a controversial issue in South Korea due to concern about collusive ties between businessmen and politicians. Park has been arrested on charges of bribery, abuse of authority, coercion and leaking government secrets.
Prosecutors said that at Park's request, Lee pledged some 43.3 billion won (38.2 million US dollars) in kickbacks and bankrolled the equestrian training of Choi's daughter in Germany in return for preferential treatment from the Fair Trade Commission, an anti-trust watchdog.
Top officials of the family-run conglomerates or "chaebol" have made regular court appearances on various charges. Some have received heavy jail terms, only for them to be pardoned or released on early parole.
Lim Chang-won = email@example.com