Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong is possibly at the lowest point of his life as he nervously waits for a court’s decision on his arrest warrant.
The heir apparent of the nation’s largest conglomerate has been placed behind bars until the court decides on his and his company’s fate, most likely by early Thursday morning.
Lee Jae-yong (Yonhap)
But his brief stay at a detention facility in south of Seoul might be a taste of what is yet to come, as he faces charges --- bribery, embezzlement and perjury -- that carry up to a life sentence in prison.
Lee, 48, is accused of offering bribes to President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil in return for the Park administration’s backing of a merger of Samsung’s two affiliates.
Lee denied the charges, saying he was forced to make the contributions and was not seeking any business favors in return.
His grueling day began at around 9:15 a.m. when he arrived in southern Seoul at the office of the independent counsel probing the scandal. Looking tense and grim-faced, Lee quickly walked past reporters to get into a black van.
The van carried him to the Seoul Central District Court, where he again faced some 200 reporters on standby taking photos and bombarding him with questions.
Lee Jae-yong walks out of the courtroom. (Yonhap)
Wearing a dark overcoat and purple necktie, Lee arrived at the court at 9:55 a.m. and did not even glance at the crowd. He quickly walked up to the courtroom on the third floor to attend the hearing that is set to decide the legality of his arrest.
“Did you promise the president to support Choi Soon-sil?” or “Anything you want to say to Korean people?” asked reporters. He ignored all the questions.
Showing the world’s keen interest in Samsung’s fate, there were a slew of foreign media outlets, with a Japanese news company even broadcasting live Lee’s arrival at the court.
Outside the court building, a group of protestors held pickets and placards that read “Arrest Lee Jae-yong.” They also submitted a petition with signatures of some 24,000 people, asking the court to issue the warrant to take him into custody.
The court session took four hours, which is unusually long for an arrest warrant hearing. The prosecution and Lee’s lawyers clashed over whether the contributions Samsung made to entities controlled by Choi were in return for business favors, according to sources.
As Lee walked out of the courtroom at 2:10 p.m., he headed directly toward the black van just outside the building to leave for the detention center.
Lee has now spent nearly several hours there, waiting for the court's decision.
Back at Samsung headquarters in downtown Seoul, company officials are also waiting with bated breath for the warrant decision, calling it an unprecedented case.
The group also cancelled a high-ranking weekly meeting held every Wednesday a day earlier.
“This is something that we haven’t experienced before. So we do not really know how to handle it. We hope the court will make a right decision,” a Samsung Group official said.
If the warrant is issued, Lee will be the first business tycoon to be arrested over the massive corruption scandal involving Park, Choi and local companies.
Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee has faced corruption charges, but has never been physically detained. The senior Lee, who has been incapacitated by a near-fatal heart attack in 2014, was slapped with suspended jail terms in 1994 and 2008 for creation of slush funds and embezzlement, respectively.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com