Dismissal of warrant for Samsung chief to cause setback in Park investigation

The court's refusal to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung Group's heir apparent Lee Jae-yong has dealt a blow to the special investigators who have been striving to prove the bribery allegation centred on President Park Geun-hye and her infamous friend Choi Soon-sil.

Though the independent counsel team vowed to carry on its investigation, doubts persist on whether the team will successfully secure further evidence within the time constraint.

"It is regretful that (the court) rejected the warrant request, but we plan to take necessary measures and carry on with our investigation in an unperturbed manner," the independent counsel team's spokesperson Lee Kyu-chul told reporters at a briefing Thursday.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

"We presume that the court held a different opinion on the legal assessment of Lee's charges."

The dismissal of the warrant does not mean that Lee is free of charges and the investigation on Samsung and Park will continue nevertheless, according to another official of the team.

Read also: Choi Soon-sil scandal: S Korea court rejects arrest warrant for Samsung heir

The Seoul Central District Court, after some 18 hours of deliberation, decided at around 4:50 a.m.

Thursday not to issue an arrest warrant for the Samsung Electronics vice chairman.

"It is hard to acknowledge the reason, necessity and appropriateness of the arrest at the current stage (of the investigation)," the lower court said, citing the lack of evidence as reason for the rejection.

In particular, the court found it difficult to admit the alleged reciprocity between the president and the nation's No. 1 conglomerate, according to officials.

The 48-year-old business tycoon was immediately released from a detention centre in Seoul, where he had stayed behind bars for nearly 14 hours while waiting for the court's decision.

Read also: Korea Inc. fears spillover from Samsung heir's fate

The failure to have the Samsung chief arrested is a major setback to the special prosecutor's efforts to establish a bribery case against President Park, but that is not all it is looking into in its widening investigation into the scandal.

Park is accused of allowing Choi to meddle in state affairs, access government secrets and extort money and favors from businesses by using their 40-year relationship.

Choi accused of interfering in state affairs using relationship with President

  • The woman at the centre of a corruption scandal that triggered the biggest political crisis for a generation in South Korea appeared in court Monday for a preliminary hearing in her trial on fraud charges.
  • It was the first public appearance since October for Choi Soon-Sil, who has been dubbed Korea’s “female Rasputin” for the influence she wielded over the now-impeached president, Park Geun-Hye.
  • Sporting black-rimmed glasses and a surgical mask that obscured her face, Choi, who has been in custody for the past seven weeks, was brought to the Seoul Central District Court in a special prison bus.
  • Television footage showed her handcuffed and wearing a blue-grey prison outfit with a serial number on the chest as she was taken off the bus and led into the court building by a female guard.
  • The 60-year-old faces trial on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power – largely related to huge “donations” made by conglomerates to two dubious foundations she controlled and allegedly plundered.
  • A long-time friend of Park’s, Choi is accused of using her leverage with the president to strong-arm the companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars.
  • Accusations that Park colluded with Choi formed the basis of an impeachment motion against the president that was passed by parliament earlier this month.
  • The motion is now being considered by the Constitutional Court which has up to 180 days to make a ruling on whether to endorse or reject the president’s ouster.
  • The last time Choi was seen in public was in late October when she attended a summons at the Seoul prosecutor’s office and famously lost a much-photographed Prada shoe in the media scrum outside the building.
  • Choi was not obliged to turn up for Monday’s hearing, which was largely procedural and focused on preparing the way for the trial proper.
  • “She has expressed a willingness to participate sincerely in the trial,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
  • But her lawyer, Lee Kyung-Jae, said she had volunteered to appear.
  • Choi was criticised for refusing to attend the hearings of a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal.
  • Park is also accused of ordering aides to leak confidential state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowing her to meddle in some state affairs, including the appointment of top officials.
  • Choi Soon-sil, accused of interfering in state affairs using her relationship with President Park Geun-hye, arrived at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office building in Seoul on Monday to face questioning over her alleged influence peddling.
  • Choi, a longtime confidante and shaman-like adviser to Park, had returned to Seoul on Sunday from Europe, capping a week of turmoil that led to a massive anti-government rally over the weekend.
  • Choi, a private citizen with no position in making policy, will be investigated over allegations of taking advantage of her political ties with President Park and coercing conglomerates to donate money to two foundations she controls.
  • She is also accused of seeking academic favors from professors at Ewha Womans University for her daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

The special counsel team has focused on bribery, however, zeroing in on Samsung, the largest conglomerate in South Korea.

The major challenge is that most of the economic benefits were offered to the president's confidante Choi and her associates, while it is the president who is suspected of exerting power upon government departments and conglomerates.

Read also: Samsung chief's possible arrest could turn up heat on S Korea's chaebols

It was for this reason that the prosecution's special probe team, which had led the investigation before the independent counsel, had excluded the president's bribery charges in its final arraignment.

Prosecutors had also defined conglomerates, including Samsung Group, not as suspects but as victims of the high-profile coercion.

Circumstantial evidence gathered so far has indicated that a massive sum of money -- 43 billion won (S$52.36 million) according to investigators -- was handed from Samsung Group to Choi and her family members.

S Korea President Park Geun-hye may have undergone various anti-aging medical procedures

The special counsel claims that the amount was paid in exchange for Park putting pressure on the National Pension Service to support a merger between the group's two affiliates -- Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.

The disputed merger of the two units increased Lee's equity ratio in the group, helping his inheritance of control over the company.

The NPS was at the time the largest shareholder of Samsung C&T and later faced hundreds of billions in losses due to the merger.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

But the dismissal of the warrant reflects that the court is not convinced, suggesting that the president exerted influence on behalf of Choi.

Prosecutors earlier claimed that President Park and Choi should be seen as accomplices in the entire scandal, as the two share common economic interests.

Now facing a roadblock, the independent counsel is highly likely to extend its 70-day period by another month so that it can carry on with the probe up to the end of March.

Also, the face-to-face questioning of the president may be put off to mid-February or later, according to observers.