Panel decides to allow outside review of Samsung heir case

June 11, 2020

A citizens’ panel with the prosecution on Thursday requested the chief prosecutor to convene a committee of outside experts to review the validity of an ongoing probe into Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.

A majority of the 15-member group, including a taxi driver and a teacher, voted in favor of Lee’s request for an independent examination of the prosecution’s investigation into the case involving a controversial merger and alleged accounting fraud.

The prosecutor-general must convene the experts’ committee once the citizens’ group makes such a decision.

In a meeting that lasted nearly four hours, the citizens’ panel with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office examined written opinions submitted by both the prosecutors and Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics.

The panel concluded that Lee should be given sufficient time to explain his stance on the case, given its significance and the level of publid interest.

The experts’ committee is expected to reach a conclusion on the validity of the probe into Lee and his possible indictment within two weeks.

The prosecution said it respects the decision and that it will fairly conduct the remaining probe.

Samsung’s attorney thanked the citizen’s panel for making a decision “that factored in the need to reflect the public’s opinion in the investigative procedure.”

Earlier this week, a Seoul court rejected the prosecution’s request to arrest Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee over the ongoing probe into a controversial merger between two Samsung affiliates and alleged accounting fraud at Samsung Biologics in 2015.

The court cited “insufficient explanation on the need and validity to arrest the defendants against the principle of trial without detention” as a reason.

The court also denied arrest warrants for two other Samsung executives, Choi Gee-sung and Kim Jong-joong, from the group’s now-disbanded control tower, the Future Strategy Office.

The Samsung scion is accused of playing a role in the merger between Cheil Industries Inc. and Samsung C&T, which the prosecutors suspect was designed to help him take over control of the group from his ailing father, Lee Kun-hee.

Last week, Lee and Kim requested for a public assessment on the investigation.

The prosecution service introduced the outside review system in 2018 to enhance neutrality and fairness of its probes into cases that are of great public interest.

The public assessment has been held eight times since it was introduced. The prosecution have accepted experts’ conclusions in most cases.

With the court’s decision not to arrest Lee, a decision by the panel was expected to influence the prosecution’s move to indict him, though it is not legally-binding.

The prosecution reportedly argued that there was no need to form a committee to determine on an indictment, as the investigation was being conducted in a fair manner and had garnered sufficient evidence to indict him.

It is also counting on the judge’s statement on the need for legal procedures to argue that an indictment is inevitable.

While rejecting the arrest warrant for Lee, Judge Won Jung-sook said, “The basic facts (of the case) have all been explained. And prosecutors seem to have already secured a considerable amount of evidence through their investigation.”

“In light of the importance of the case, whether the defendants are responsible, and if so, how much they are, should be determined through sufficient legal battles and court hearings,” she said.

Lee and the two executives have denied any wrongdoing. Samsung has claimed that Lee was not briefed on and did not order the allegedly illegal transactions.