The heir to the Samsung empire and four other top executives from the world’s biggest smartphone maker were indicted Tuesday on multiple charges including bribery and embezzlement, South Korean prosecutors said.
“Special prosecutors today indicted Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-Yong… for bribery, embezzlement, hiding of assets overseas… and perjury,” said Lee Kyu-Chul, spokesman for the team probing a corruption and power abuse scandal that has seen President Park Geun-Hye impeached.
Lee was arrested earlier this month. The presentation of formal charges against him and his colleagues makes them almost certain to face trial, casting new uncertainty over South Korea’s biggest firm as it seeks to recover from a humiliating smartphone recall.
Three of the five — but not Lee — resigned their positions, said the conglomerate of which Samsung Electronics is the flagship. It added that it was “dismantling” its Future Strategy Office, the co-ordinating body that oversees major decisions such as acquisitions or entering new business.
The move, described as a “reform plan”, was announced in a brief five-line statement emailed minutes after the indictment.
Lee, 48, has effectively been at the helm of the conglomerate since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.
Among other allegations, he is accused of paying nearly $40 million in bribes to a confidante of President Park’s to secure policy favours. Lee — who is also accused of concealing stolen assets — has denied all charges.
His colleagues face similar charges except for the perjury count.
The indictment came as the special prosecutors — who were appointed in December — were set to hand back the case to state prosecutors Wednesday after the government rejected a request to extend their probe.
During their term the special prosecutors indicted a total of 29 suspects — 16 of them on Tuesday — including an ex-arts minister and former presidential chief of staff.
The special prosecutors’ spokesman Lee said it would be up to the state prosecutors to probe other South Korean conglomerates, including Hyundai Motor and retail giant Lotte Group.
The scandal centres on Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her close ties with President Park to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations, which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.
Samsung was the single biggest donor to the foundations. It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.
But Samsung Electronics shares closed up one percent on Tuesday, at 1,922,000 won per share.
Lee’s arrest was the first of a Samsung chief and dealt a huge blow to the electronics giant’s corporate image.