Samsung's Vice Chairman and heir apparent Jay Y. Lee denied corruption charges in court on Friday, as the Seoul Central District Court started what local media have dubbed "the trial of the century" following a preliminary hearing in March. Lee's lawyers reiterated the defense they've already laid out last month, claiming Samsung's top executive wasn't directly responsible for paying more than $38 million in bribes to several organizations connected to former South Korean President Park and her associate Choi Soon-sil, both of whom apparently helped Samsung Group facilitate a controversial 2015 merger of its subsidiaries that solidified the succession proceedings within the largest business conglomerate in the country, allowing the founding Lee family to seize more power in the process.
Lee was mostly silent during the Friday court session, only nodding to some statements from his lawyers and vocally confirming details regarding his person, including his name and occupation, Reuters reports. Samsung's Vice Chairman appeared in court alongside four other top executives at Samsung, all of whom were implicated in the influence-peddling scandal that shook the Far Eastern country after being uncovered in late 2016. While stating their defense, Lee's lawyers implied that former Samsung Group executive Choi Gee-sung was to be directly blamed for the bribes, adding that Lee had no direct knowledge of the matter and didn't know what Choi — who now left the company — will do. Regardless, any payments made to the aforementioned organizations were made on the request of former Korean President Park and no one from Samsung Group expected anything in return for them, Lee's legal team argued.
Industry watchers don't believe Lee's current absence from the company will significantly impact Samsung's short-term endeavors, and investors seemingly agree with that sentiment seeing how Samsung's stock actually broke records following the arrest of the company's top executive. Regardless, Lee is facing up to 20 years in prison if found guilty on all accounts which admittedly isn't likely to happen, but any kind of prison sentence might affect Samsung's long-term dealings and potentially jeopardize some of its planned mergers and acquisitions, though the $8 billion purchase of Harman International Industries that's currently in the process of being completed isn't among those endangered deals.