The arrest Friday of Samsung Group's de facto heir Lee Jae-yong is unnerving other conglomerate chieftains who are suspected of wrongdoings very similar to those of Lee, especially with the special prosecutor team seeking an extension of its term, business watchers said.
Lee, the son of Samsung's hospitalized leader Lee Kun-hee, was taken into custody on charges of bribery. Samsung and a slew of other leading conglomerates are alleged to have made donations to foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a personal friend of President Park Geun-hye, in exchange for various corporate favors. Lee's arrest is seen as a piece of the bigger picture in the special prosecutor's investigation of the president who is undergoing an impeachment trial.
Other major conglomerates, known locally as chaebols, have been implicated in the scandal. Samsung is believed to have "contributed" 20.4 billion won (US$17.88 million) to Choi's foundations. According to investigators, 53 businesses donated a total of 77.4 billion won.
SK Group's donations coincided with the pending pardon last year for the company's leader Chey Tae-won, who was serving time for embezzlement and other financial crimes.
Lotte's donation has been tied to the company's bid for a duty-free business. For CJ Group, the money has been linked to the pardon last year of its chief Lee Jae-hyun.
The special prosecutor's 70-day term ends on Feb. 28. It can seek a one-time extension of 30 days, which must be approved by Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. The special prosecutor officially requested the extension on Thursday, and if approved, it raises chances of an investigation on conglomerates other than Samsung.
SK officials are denying any ties to the scandal and emphasizing Chey's efforts recently to get back into the swing of company business through acquisitions and investments.
"(Choi's) foundations were not in the picture when Chey was pardoned," an official said.
Lotte, likewise, is dismissing any connections to Choi. But an official admitted that the company "cannot yet take its ease." (Yonhap)
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