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South Korean court dismisses arrest warrant for Samsung chief

SEOUL A South Korean court on Thursday dismissed a warrant to arrest the head of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, a court spokesman said, amid a graft scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court to allow Jay Y. Lee to go home is likely to come as a major relief to the company and for Lee, who has tried to fill the vacuum in the group’s leadership since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.

Lee had been questioned for 22 hours last week and was held overnight on Wednesday while the court reached its decision.

The judge said in a statement that after reviewing the contents and the process of the investigation so far, it “deemed it difficult to acknowledge the necessity” of an arrest at the current stage. 

A Samsung Group spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment.

The group’s flagship, Samsung Electronics (005930.KS), is the world’s biggest maker of smartphones, flatscreen TVs and memory chips.

The special prosecutor’s office on Monday said it would seek a warrant to arrest the third-generation leader of Samsung on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and perjury.

Lee had denied wrongdoing.

Park, 64, was impeached last month by parliament over the influence-peddling scandal, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court will see her become the country’s first democratically elected leader forced from office early.

Park, who remains in office but stripped of her powers while the court decides her fate, has also denied wrongdoing.

The special prosecutor has accused Lee of paying bribes totaling 43 billion won ($36.70 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

Earlier this week, the special prosecutor indicted the chairman of the National Pension Service, the world’s third-largest pension fund, on charges of abuse of power and giving false testimony.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Se Young Lee and Christine Kim; Writing by Nick Macfie)

Reuters