The "trial of the century" has begun in South Korea, where a vice chairman at Samsung Electronics faces bribery and embezzlement charges after allegedly giving $36 million to President Park Geun-hye and her close friend Choi Soon-sil in order to win government support for a 2015 merger. Lee Jae-Yong, also identified as Jay Y. Lee, faces five years to life in prison if convicted and is expected to learn his fate within three months, though years of appeals could follow. The latest:
- Samsung has admitted donating about $17.5 million to foundations controlled by Choi, but Lee says it was forced to do so by Park, per Yonhap News. However, Lee says he provided money and a horse to help the equestrian career of Choi's daughter, per the BBC.
- A prosecutor has described this as the "trial of the century" and a lawyer previously involved with the case explains why: It "will draw attention from around the world, not just for the defendant's fame abroad, but also for the size of the alleged bribe," he says.
- "Every step will be contentious," reports Bloomberg. In the first court hearing Thursday, Lee's lawyers attempted to show a PowerPoint presentation, only to have prosecutors fiercely object. Defense lawyers then complained about a special prosecutor's involvement in the hearing.
- In some ways, Park is also on trial. A constitutional court is set to decide whether to uphold her impeachment on Friday, a decision that could lead to an election within two months. Bloomberg reports any decision is "almost certain to provoke protests."
- It won't be anything new. People have been protesting in Seoul for months, many outraged over what they view as "chronic corruption" in dealings between the government and family-run conglomerates.
- What does this all mean for Samsung's business? The company has said its strong management team will ensure all runs smoothly. But without Lee at its head, major decisions for the company could be delayed.
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