Samsung chief staves off arrest, prosecutor keeps chasing
A South Korean court on Thursday dismissed an arrest warrant against the head of Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], the country's largest conglomerate, amid a graft scandal that has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
But the reprieve for Jay Y. Lee, 48, may only be temporary, as the special prosecutor's office said it would pursue the case.
Lee, who has led Samsung since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, was still likely to face the same charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, legal analysts said, even if he is not detained.
Lee left the Seoul Detention Centre carrying a white shopping bag and climbed into a car without talking to reporters, having been held overnight as the court deliberated whether to grant the arrest warrant.
The special prosecutor's office said it would be continuing its probe but had not decided whether to make another arrest warrant request, and the setback would not change its plans to investigate other conglomerates.
Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said the prosecution was unconvinced by the Samsung chief's argument that he was a victim of coercion due to pressure from Park.
The spokesman also said Samsung Group Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung had been classified as a suspect on suspicion of bribery, but did not elaborate further. Two other Samsung officials, Choi's deputy Chang Choong-ki and Samsung Electronics executive Park Sang-jin, were also under investigation.
The office has accused Lee of paying multi-million dollar bribes to Park's confidant, Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the heart of the scandal, to win support from the National Pension Service for a controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung Group affiliates.
The merger helped cement Lee's control over the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals business empire. He has denied wrongdoing.
The judge said in a statement on his ruling that an arrest was not necessary - for now.
"After reviewing the contents and the process of the investigation so far ... it is difficult to acknowledge the necessity and substantiality of an arrest at the current stage," he said.
Lee Jung-jae, a lawyer and former prosecutor, said he didn't think the special prosecutor would push for Lee's detention again.
"They probably already have as much evidence as they could gather," he told Reuters. "They will indict him eventually, but without detention."
Samsung said in an emailed statement that it appreciated "the fact that the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention".
The group's flagship, Samsung Electronics (005930.KS), is the world's biggest maker of smartphones, flat-screen televisions and memory chips.