Appeal trial of Samsung’s Lee begins in bribery case
Published : Oct 12, 2017 - 19:15
Updated : Oct 12, 2017 - 19:15
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who was convicted of bribing ousted President Park Geun-hye, and state prosecutors clashed Thursday over the validity of a former presidential aide’s notebook as evidence in the first hearing by an appeals court.

The notebook contains memos by An Chong-bum, arrested and on trial alongside Park on charges of bribery, which he said were notes of what ex-President Park said. It allegedly includes key phrases Park used regarding Samsung Group, such as “simplification of management structure,” after she had a one-on-one meeting with Lee.

Lee, Samsung Group’s de facto chief, is accused of asking for favors to tighten his control over Samsung Group in return for donations for entities controlled by Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil during the one-on-one meeting, which the court acknowledged as “tacit bribery.”

The daughter of the “Molar daddy,“ accused of assisting her father to dispose of the body of her friend, allegedly killed by her father, arrives at the Seoul Northern District Court on Thursday for a hearing on her arrest warrant. She remains hospitalized after overdosing on sleeping pills together with her father. (Yonhap)

Whether the appeals court accepts the notebooks as evidence is seen as crucial to Lee’s fate, as they constitute the main sources of information to back the prosecution’s claims that Lee sought favors from then-President Park.

Lee’s defense team said the notebook could not be accepted as evidence because Park, who had allegedly made the comments described in the notebook, could not confirm whether she actually had said the remarks. An was not present during the meeting.

“An was not present at the meeting and took notes of what he heard from Park. Park has never confirmed that it is what she said and whether Park delivered exactly what was discussed during the meeting to An,” Lee’s lawyer said. “The notebook only displays a list of words without subjects or verbs,” Lee’s lawyer said.

Park was asked to appear to testify in the first trial, but she refused. An earlier testified during a hearing on ex-Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo tied to the corruption scandal that what was written on his notebook was 100 percent what Park said.

The criminal procedure law stipulates that testimony or evidence presented by a third party relying on what they saw or heard from others is not valid as evidence.

Special Counsel, however, said that factual relations had been already constructed based on testimony made during court proceedings at a lower court and that the notebook, containing “indirect facts,” was valid as evidence.

A lower court sentenced Lee to five years in jail on several charges, including bribery and embezzlement, acknowledging that he had anticipated support from Park. The Special Counsel asked the court to sentence him to 12 years in jail. Both sides appealed the decision.

The main point of contention is whether Lee received favors from the Park administration in respect of Samsung Group’s leadership transfer from Lee’s ailing father, Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, to himself.

“Lee already secured a sufficient stake and took over the leadership, so there was no reason to push for the leadership transfer (by asking for favors from the government),” Lee’s lawyer said.

Lee has denied the charges, saying there were no favors to ask and the donations were made without his knowledge.

The court found him guilty of providing 8.9 billion won ($7.87 million) in kickbacks to a winter sports center controlled by Choi and to sponsor her daughter’s equestrian training, expecting Park to exert influence in backing the merger of two Samsung affiliates.

Former President Park, in return for the alleged bribe, is suspected of having pressured the state-funded National Pension Service to vote in favor of the controversial merger, a crucial step for a smooth leadership succession from ailing Samsung Chairman Lee to his only soon Jae-yong. The largest stakeholder in Samsung C&T, one of the two affiliates, was the NPS.

“The succession plan was designed to inevitably maximize Lee’s own interest at the cost of its subsidiaries, shareholders and the subscribers of the national pension,” the prosecution said.

The Special Counsel said that Lee was a main beneficiary from the money-for-favor scheme, saying it was “explicit bribery,” rather than being based on a tacit understanding.

The counsel claimed that donations worth 22 billion won to the K-Sports Foundation and Mir Foundation -- to which other local firms also contributed money -- were also bribes, saying “Samsung was different” from other conglomerates in terms of its collusive ties to the former administration.

Grim-faced, Lee walked into the courtroom at 10 a.m., wearing a black suit and carrying an envelope. It was his first public appearance since the lower court handed him a five-year prison term on Aug. 25.

The corruption scandal, involving high-profile government officials and business tycoons, drove millions of people to the streets in protest late last year and led to former President Park Geun-hye’s removal from office in March.