The de facto leader of Samsung Electronics Ltd. did little more than confirm his personal details during a court appearance on Friday, and has apparently instructed his lawyers to portray him as an innocent bystander in the graft scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea’s former president, according to Reuters.
Lee Jae-yong, known professionally as Jay Y. Lee, has been accused of paying former president Park Geun-hye and her associate some 43 billion won (approximately $49.54 million Canadian) in bribes in order to maximize his control of the Samsung empire.
Lee was expressionless for the majority of his first day on trial, nodding occasionally when his attorneys officially denied all charges and remaining silent when asked if he had anything to say in response, reporter Joyce Lee wrote.
“The defendant, Jay Y. Lee, didn’t even know that the contribution was made, because that’s not part of his job,” lawyer Song Wu-cheol told the court, according to Reuters’ Lee.
Instead, Samsung’s lawyers argued, Lee would have one-on-one meetings with Park, relaying her comments to former Samsung executive Choi Gee-sung and occasionally responding to her requests with financial payments. Neither he nor the company asked for favours in return, they said.
Choi was one of two executives who recently resigned from Samsung in light of Lee’s bribery charges.
Lee himself could face more than 20 years in jail if convicted on all of them.
Prior to his arrest Lee, who has officially served as Samsung’s vice chair and de facto head since his father and company chair Lee Kun-hee suffered a heart attack in 2014, had been accused by South Korean authorities of participating in payments that Samsung made to Choi Soon-sil, the presidential friend and advisor at the heart of Park’s impeachment scandal, in exchange for government support of a company merger that, according to the Korea Times, was designed for Lee to increase his stake in Samsung as a whole.
Park herself was arrested last week. Like Lee, she has denied all charges.
Samsung’s team argued that Lee and other Samsung executives felt threatened while interacting with Choi, submitting evidence that depicted Park scolding Lee during a July 2015 meeting over what she considered inadequate support for the equestrian community.
“Do you know what will happen to the company if the president keeps getting angry?” a document presented by Samsung’s prosecution team quoted Lee saying.
During a September 2014 meeting, Park asked Samsung to take over as the Korea Equestrian Federation’s main sponsor, the company’s lawyers said.
According to the Korea JoonAng Daily, Samsung ultimately pledged 22 billion won – approximately $24.39 million Canadian – to support the equestrian training of Choi’s daughter.
Meanwhile, South Korean authorities argued that Lee actively sought Park’s help in cementing control over his family’s business empire.
“We have secured enough evidence proving that defendant Lee Jae-yong made improper requests to the president,” special prosecutor Park Young-soo said, adding that Lee wanted Park to help maximize his control of Samsung and its various divisions at the lowest possible cost, according to Reuters’ Lee.
Despite Lee’s high-profile trial – not to mention its name becoming synonymous with exploding smartphones last year – Samsung posted its best operating profits since 2013 on April 7 as well, with preliminary results of 9.9 trillion won (approximately $11.67 billion Canadian), according to Bloomberg.