Early morning on January 19, the Seoul Central District court rejected an arrest warrant sought for Samsung Group's de facto leader Lee Jae-yong on charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, dealing a blow to investigators who have been accelerating the probe into the bribery allegations involving President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil. The judgment was made public at 4:53 a.m., nearly 14 hours after Lee went through the investigation to determine a warrant's validityquestioned.
Judge Cho Eui-yeon of the Seoul court in charge of the case said, "It is hard to find a reason, necessity and appropriateness for the arrest at the current stage," pointing out that key issues, such as whether the money was for any kind of reciprocal favors, are still debated.
The court's rejection for Lee's arrest warrant is likely to deal a blow to investigators who have been accelerating the probe into the bribery allegations involving President Park and her friend. The alleged Samsung bribery is a primary charge for President Park’s ongoing impeachment trial under review at the Constitutional Court.
It has been pointed out by those in the business and legal communities that South Korean special prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for Lee Jae-yong, the Samsung Group's de facto leader, on charges of bribery in order to take aim at President Park Geun-hye and the court should determine whether to issue the arrest warrant on January 18 based solely on laws and principles with political considerations not taken into account at all.
“The request for the arrest warrant does not fulfill many of its required conditions and it seems that the Samsung Group has been compelled to be involved,” said professor Choi Joon-sun at the Sungkyunkwan University Law School.
His claim is based on the fact that spoliation of evidence has been prevented. Concerning the Choi Sun-sil scandal, the Samsung Group was seized and searched on three different occasions and no less than 17 cases of investigations were conducted on its key personnel, including three of them on the vice chairman. He is currently forbidden from leaving South Korea, which means he is unlikely to run away with it being impossible for such a well-known person to keep going unnoticed in the country. “According to the Constitution of South Korea and its Code of Criminal Procedure, any suspect is to be investigated without detention unless he or she is likely to run away or spoil evidence,” another one in the legal community mentioned.
When it comes to the request for the arrest warrant, the business community has been claiming that a punishment on him makes no sense with President Park Geun-hye, who is regarded as the main culprit, having yet to be summoned and questioned. In seeking the arrest warrant, the special prosecutors determined that the 23 billion won the Samsung Group paid the MIR and K-Sports Foundations and the Korea Winter Sports Elite Center was a bribe given to Choi Sun-sil so that President Park Geun-hye could assist in the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.
“This decision of the special prosecutors can be seen as having been driven by the anti-conglomerate sentiment of the public and the 50 or more companies that sent money to the foundations have to be equally treated if the special prosecutors are to adhere to the decision,” said an attorney at a local law firm.
In the meantime, more and more people in the communities are criticizing the special prosecutors as adding to the anti-conglomerate sentiment and putting pressure on the court with its decision on the issuance of the arrest warrant around the corner. They are calling into question the appropriateness of the special prosecutors’ recent remarks such as “We are more than full of evidence against the vice chairman” and “What are described in the arrest warrant will stun people.” The special prosecutors mentioned on January 16 that they would keep looking into the other conglomerates as well regardless of whether the arrest warrant is issued or not.