The South Korean High Prosecutor's Office is planning to expand its corruption probe beyond Samsung, authorities said on Monday. Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the special prosecutor's office, said that investigators will look into other conglomerates in the country and their potentially suspicious dealings with state agencies after they wrap up their case against Samsung Group. Lee didn't provide any more details on these efforts and his statement didn't include an update on the ongoing investigation against Samsung.
The Seoul-based conglomerate found itself in the middle of a corruption scandal in late 2016 after it came to light that some of its officials allegedly bribed certain power brokers in the country to facilitate a controversial merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries in 2015. Choi Soon-sil, a close associate of President Park, allegedly accepted approximately $37 million in bribes from Samsung Group's Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee in exchange for convincing the National Pension Fund (NPS) — a major shareholder of Cheil Industries — to approve the merger with Samsung C&T. The bribes were said to be paid as donations to two nonprofits connected to Choi who denied all accusations and is currently in custody facing numerous charges.
While Samsung Group's heir Lee is also facing charges of bribery, perjury, and embezzlement, a Korean court recently allowed him to defend himself as a free man after it refused to issue an arrest warrant which the prosecutors requested for him. President Park still hasn't been officially charged with anything, but she has already been impeached by the parliament in December and is currently waiting for the Constitutional Court to confirm or dismiss that decision. Seeing how Park's associates allegedly brokered numerous shady deals involving state agencies over the years, the fact that the High Prosecutor's Office is now looking to investigate more conglomerates after Samsung comes as no surprise. Other Korean companies which are big enough to potentially be involved in this developing scandal include LG and Hyundai, though nothing is confirmed at this point. While Samsung would probably prefer to get this case over with as soon as possible, authorities are unlikely to rush the proceedings given the high-profile nature of the scandal.