Samsung chairman 'ashamed' over corruption probe

 

The head of South Korea's largest business group Samsung on Saturday said he was "ashamed" and would accept the results of an ongoing probe into corruption allegations.

 

Chairman Lee Kun-Hee apparently softened his stance after undergoing 11 hours of intense questioning which lasted into early Saturday at a special prosecutor's office.

 

"I feel deeply ashamed before the people for causing this disturbance over the Samsung issue," he told journalists, leaving special prosecutor Cho Joon-Woong's office.

 

"I will humbly accept the results of the special probe and do my best not to let this kind of things happen again."

 

"I should be blamed and held responsible for all these things," he said.

 

When he appeared for questioning on Friday, Lee had flatly rejected allegations that the group raised millions of dollars of bribery slush funds and illegally helped transfer control of the group to his son, Lee Jae-Yong.

 

He also angrily rejected a suggestion that his group was now being seen by the public as a crime ring, blaming the media that "passed on such things."

 

But when he was leaving the office, he appeared to concede that the group might have committed some wrongs.

 

"Some points, maybe. But not 100 per cent," Lee said when asked by journalists whether he agreed that allegations about massive slush funds, illicit transfer of control of the group to his son and bribery were true.

 

The questioning of the 66-year-old business tycoon capped the probe which began in January.

 

Parliament voted to set up the independent probe into claims by the group's former chief lawyer that it created a slush fund totalling 200 billion won ($197 million; Dh723 million) to bribe government officials and politicians.

 

Investigators have asked President Lee Myung-Bak to extend their mandate until April 23.

 

The special prosecutors have also investigated whether control of the group was illegally transferred from Lee to his son, who is a senior executive of Samsung Electronics.

 

The son was questioned in March but investigators said there was insufficient evidence to indict him.

 

Lee's wife Hong Ra-Hee, who runs a prestigious art gallery, was questioned on Wednesday over claims that the suspected fund was used to buy expensive paintings.

 

"It would be correct to say we are in the wrap-up stage," Yun Jung-Sok, spokesman for the special prosecutor, told journalists.

 

News reports said Lee was expected to be indicted but allowed to remain free pending a trial.

 

Lee and other corporate leaders were questioned in 1995 over suspicions that they bribed politicians.

 

Lee was later convicted of contributing to a slush fund for then-president Roh Tae-Woo and received a suspended jail sentence. He was pardoned in 1997.

 

The probe has put the business practices of the chaebol – big family-run conglomerates – back into the spotlight.

 

Backed by state funds the chaebol created the "Miracle on the Han" which transformed South Korea from a destitute war-shattered nation into the world's 13th largest economy.

 

But their excesses were partly blamed for the country's travails during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.

 

Liberal groups say the probe will enhance corporate transparency while business lobby groups want it wound up quickly.

 

Samsung wields enormous influence in South Korea. Group-wide assets are valued at $280.8 billion (Dh1 billion) and its exports were worth $66.3 billion (Dh243.32 billion) last year, more than 20 per cent of the nation's total. (AFP)

 
 
 
Comments

Comments