Seoul: Samsung Electronics heir Jay Y. Lee has refused to testify at the bribery trial of former president Park Geun-hye, arguing that doing so risked affecting his own corruption hearing.
Lawyers for the de-facto chief of South Korea’s largest corporation invoked an article in the criminal procedure act that allows individuals to refrain from testimony that may lead to criminal prosecution.
Mr Lee is undergoing a bribery trial of his own in connection with Ms Park and his appearance on Monday would have marked their first encounter since an influence-peddling scandal that led to their arrests.
The Samsung heir has been the highest-profile business figure indicted in a scandal that’s spurred outrage over cosy ties between government and corporations. Both Mr Lee and Ms Park have denied bribery charges. A subsequent investigation led to Ms Park being driven from office in March, and the election of opposition politician Moon Jae-in as president in May.
“My honest intention is to earnestly answer questions in court in order to unveil the truth,” Mr Lee told the judge presiding over the trial. “But I cannot do so, according to my lawyers’ advice.”
Ms Park has been accused of corruption and abuse of power, setting the stage for a trial that could result in a lengthy prison term. The former head of state failed to appear at her own trial at Seoul Central District Court on Monday because she had difficulty walking after injuring a toe, her lawyer said in court.
Mr Lee has taken Samsung’s reins since his father suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised in 2014. Prosecutors allege he paid bribes to secure the support of the government-run National Pension Service for a 2015 merger between Cheil Industries Inc. and Samsung C&T Corp., which was narrowly approved over the opposition of investor Paul Elliott Singer. Samsung has said the merger was meant to boost the competitiveness of the Samsung affiliates and had nothing to do with succession.
Two other Samsung executives declined to testify on Monday while Choi Soon-sil – a friend of the former president’s and a central figure in her case – attended as a defendant.