An outside panel in South Korea overwhelmingly voted against indicting Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee, going against prosecution efforts to bring the country’s most powerful conglomerate to trial on alleged accounting fraud and stock manipulation.
Prosecutors will start reviewing their investigation this week in light of the external panel’s recommendation issued last Friday.
The panel, comprised of experts from fields including law, academia and media, voted 10 to three not to indict Lee and to halt the probe against him. The finding is not legally binding but prosecutors have followed the panel’s recommendation in all previous eight instances.
Prosecutors have usually come to a decision within two weeks of the panel’s recommendation, but this time it could take longer given the differing opinions, according to legal experts.
“Prosecutors ultimately hold the right to indict but it would be hard to go against the panel’s decision as the panel is seen as a promise with the public,” a lawyer who previously served as a high-level judge said.
The civilian panel policy was introduced in Korea by the prosecution in late 2017 as part of a legal reform to improve transparency and fairness in investigations.
The overwhelming vote against the indictment is also likely to add further pressure on the prosecution to drop the case, according to another senior-prosecutor-turned-lawyer. “Overriding the panel’s decision and taking the case to trial could be seen as a coercive move,” the lawyer said.
A Seoul district court earlier this month rejected prosecution’s request to arrest Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, and two other Samsung executives, who were accused of accounting fraud at the biotech unit Samsung Biologics and stock manipulation during the 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates, Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.
Prosecutors argued the actions were taken to help Lee consolidate control over Samsung and facilitate the succession from his ailing father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who has been hospitalized since 2014 following a major heart attack.
The 52-year-old Lee was jailed for a year, from February 2017, for allegedly bribing a confidante of the now-impeached President Park Geun-hye to win approval for the 2015 merger. He walked out a free man in February 2018 after his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence was suspended.
Samsung Electronics shares closed Monday at 52,200 won ($43.34), down 2.06 percent from Friday when the stock rose 2.7 percent.
By Kim Hee-rae and Kim Hyo-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]