In a departure from the leniency typically given South Korean big businesses, prosecutors on Monday requested the arrest of the de facto head of Samsung Electronics, the country's most valuable company, in an influence-peddling scandal that has toppled the country's president, the AP reports. Lee Jae-yong, the 48-year-old vice chairman at the company, faces allegations of embezzlement, of lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing, and of offering a bribe of $36 million to a longtime friend of impeached President Park Geun-hye, according to a spokesman for a special prosecutors' team investigating the political scandal.
It will surprise many that prosecutors requested the arrest of the man who symbolizes the future of South Korea's most important chaebol, as family-controlled conglomerates are known. Such leaders tend to be treated as vital for the national economy. Prosecutors understood worries that Lee's arrest could hurt the economy, but "we believed that it was even more important to carry out justice," the prosecutors' spokesman told reporters. Samsung allegedly donated funds to various entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, the jailed secretive confidante of the president, including two nonprofit foundations. Part of the money given to Choi allegedly was embezzled by the Samsung vice chairman, the spokesman for the prosecutors said. (Choi's daughter has been arrested in Denmark.)