Samsung chairman may face probe soon

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South Korean prosecutors may summon Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Group, as early as next month for questioning over allegations that he might have been involved in illegal attempts to transfer control of the country’s biggest conglomerate to his son.

Prosecutors have been looking into the case after a group of law school academics filed a complaint in 2000 against Mr Lee and other major shareholders, accusing them of selling convertible bonds issued by Samsung Everland to Lee Jae-yong, the chairman’s son, and his sisters at a discount.

“The probe into working-level directors is almost over and it is moving up now,” Lee In-kyu, a prosecutor in charge of the case, said on Tuesday. But he said that no official decision has been made.

Samsung has declined to comment on the case.

Last year, two Samsung executives were convicted for breaching their financial duty by helping Mr Lee to transfer management control to his son through the bond sale.

The investigation into Samsung’s controlling family follows the arrest of Chung Mong-koo, chairman of Hyundai Motor, last week on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust.

The probes into the country’s biggest chaebol will add to pressure for improvements in corporate governance as the family-run business groups are facing criticism over alleged violations of law and opaque management.

Prosecutors plan to conclude the investigation into Samsung’s controlling family by July, as a court is expected to rule on an appeal filed by the Samsung executives, who received suspended prison sentences for the Everland transaction.

In February, the Samsung group donated $1bn to “society” to ease widespread resentment over the Lee family’s apparent plans to pass control of the group to a third generation. Hyundai last week followed suit, with the Chung family donating $1bn of its assets.

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