Samsung Group Vice Chairman and heir apparent Jay Y. Lee avoided testifying at the trial of the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, citing self-incrimination fears. Park is accused of accepting bribes and general corruption in a case that saw her impeached by the parliament earlier this year. She and her close associate Choi Soon-sil are said to have influenced the National Pension Service (NPS) in exchange for Lee's financial support of Choi's daughter Chung Yoo-ra and her equestrian career. Due to their influence, the NPS voted for a controversial 2015 merger of Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T, being a majority shareholder in the latter, despite losing millions of dollars on the transaction. According to the prosecutors, Lee pursued the consolidation due to the fact that it transitioned more power to the part of Samsung Group controlled by the conglomerate's founding family and consequently – him.
Lee's lawyers claimed that Samsung's chief could be criminally prosecuted by testifying at Park's trial and hence isn't obliged to do so, essentially citing the same defense that Park herself used last week when she was called to testify against Lee. Lee told the competent judge at the Seoul Central District Court that his "honest intention is to earnestly answer questions," adding that his lawyers are now advising him not to do so. Apart from him, two other Samsung executives were brought before the judge earlier today, both refusing to testify against Park. The current state of affairs will likely further prolong the trial that still sees no end in sight, though it could ultimately lead to Park's imprisonment. Samsung previously claimed that the aforementioned merger was intended to increase the competitiveness between the company's subsidiaries and wasn't a power move by Lee to streamline succession proceedings within the firm.
Much like Lee, Park and Choi previously denied all bribery and related allegations, claiming that their trial is politicized and has no legal merit. It's currently unclear how long will Park's case take to be concluded, though the competent court is expected to rule on Lee's involvement in the ordeal by the end of the year. An update on the situation should follow shortly.