Samsung Group Vice Chairman and heir apparent Jay Y. Lee broke his long silence on Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time in months at his trial on corruption and a number of other charges. The de facto leader of the largest business conglomerate in South Korea denied allegations of corruption laid out by public prosecutors earlier this year, claiming that he didn't collude with the former Korean President Park Geun-hye to facilitate a controversial 2015 merger of two of Samsung's subsidiaries that severely damaged the largest pension fund in the country while simultaneously strengthening the succession proceedings within the company in favor of its founding Lee family.
Mr. Lee's trial officially started in April and it wasn't until today that the defendant personally took the witness stand to address the accusations he's facing which also include the embezzlement of corporate funds and perjury. The prosecutors allege that he personally ordered approximately $38 million in bribes to be paid to organizations linked to the now-impeached Korean President and her close associate Choi Soon-sil, as well as the latter's daughter Chung Yoo-ra. The money allegedly came from Samsung Group's corporate funds and ensured that the National Pension Service (NPS) approves the 2015 merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries as a major shareholder of the former despite losing a significant amount of money on the deal. Mr. Lee on Wednesday testified that he had almost no knowledge of the activities in which the two companies engaged, adding that the consolidation itself was handled by Samsung Group's Future Strategy Office which he ordered to be closed down after the scandal came to light.
Mr. Lee said that the vast majority of his work as the conglomerate's Vice Chairman comes down to managing Samsung Electronics and its subsidiaries, the company that accounts for more than two thirds of Samsung Group's valuation. His testimony was backed by former Future Strategy Office executive Choi Gee-sung who on Tuesday testified that he approved the donation that prosecutors believe was a bribe without informing his superior. Samsung's third-generation leader also denied ever colluding with the former Korean President, stating that a 2014 meeting with her during which prosecutors believe the two discussed details of the merger was shorter than five minutes. Mr. Lee's arrest warrant is expiring in late August which is when the prosecution is expected to provide the Seoul Central District Court with a sentence recommendation.