Thirteen weeks into Samsung trial, no smoking gun

Seoul: The trial of Jay Y. Lee, the heir to the Samsung Group empire, has featured heaps of pages of files and hundreds of hours of testimony from dozens of witnesses. But professionals say one aspect is missing: a smoking gun.

The billionaire stands accused of paying bribes to South Korean President Park Geun-Hye after which looking to cover it, costs that he has denied. With the trial set to keep for every other couple of months, the prosecution plans to call the state’s former chief to testify because it seeks to show Lee handed over millions of bucks to get a contentious merger permitted.

“its genuine direct proof is lacking so far,” said Hong Jung-Seok, a legal professional who previously labored with the special prosecution at some point of their preliminary probe of Lee. “The first-rate alternative for prosecutors is to make their argument as convincing as feasible based totally on the indirect proof they’ve.”

Dubbed the “trial of the century” because of its hyperlink to an influence-peddling scandal that delivered down the president and ensnared u. S . A .’s maximum effective businesses, hearings had been marked by using terse exchanges among prosecutors and the decide. Connecting the dots has been a time-consuming attempt, extending beyond a preliminary May deadline for a verdict, with the prosecutors yet to finish their case before the defense crew gets to present theirs.

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If the trial isn’t wrapped up through the cease of August, the six-month anniversary of Lee’s arrest, then the wealthy person, who’s additionally VP of cellphone maker Samsung Electronics Co., ought to be let out inside the absence of new prices.

Prosecutors allege Lee promised money to an equestrian basis managed with the aid of Park’s buddy Choi Soon-soil. The payoff changed into designed to comfortable government backing for the contentious 2015 merger of Samsung affiliates that helped cement his control over the electronics enterprise, they stated. A former health minister has been convicted of abusing his strength at some point of the deal.

Defense attorneys said the merger became geared toward boosting the competitiveness of its units and had nothing to do with succession. They additionally said Park pressed Lee to fund the sports affiliation with out announcing it would advantage Choi’s daughter, a competitive equestrian. The former president is standing trial one at a time and has denied wrongdoing, as has her buddy Choi.

Among the proof referred to because the trial began in March are textual content messages from cellular telephones used by Samsung executives and hand-written notes through a former presidential secretary.

Those statistics show South Korea’s largest enterprise liaised with senior authorities officers, along with regulators and presidential aides, on an expansion of problems. Samsung even once sought to influence officers by giving them logo-new Galaxy smartphones, consistent with the written testimony of 1 govt.

Still, information of what Lee and Park mentioned of their meetings from 2014 to 2016 has been scant. While Lee hasn’t taken the stand, he has stated meeting with the former president but denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers stated Samsung’s communications with authorities happened inside felony barriers and have been part of its routine sports.

The merger of Samsung C&T Corp. And Cheil Industries Inc. Squeaked through in 2015 over the objections of activist investor Paul Elliott Singer, who had argued it undervalued C&T.

The deal was authorized with the guide of Korea’s kingdom-run National Pension Service, a $450 billion fund with money from 22 million residents that had a stake in C&T large sufficient to swing the deal in either route.

Prosecutors have alleged that backing from the NPS happened due to the bribes. On 8 June, former minister for health and welfare Moon Hyung-pro became sentenced to two-and-a-half of years prison for abuse of electricity after he changed into convicted of pressuring the NPS into backing the merger. The pension carrier is overseen with the aid of the fitness ministry.

Both Lee and Park say they didn’t discuss the deal in their meetings.

“Prosecutors face the double demanding situations of proving Samsung’s donations had been indeed a quid pro quo and that bribes paid to Choi are basically bribes paid to Park,” stated Kim Nam-Kuk, an attorney at Seoul-based law firm Myung Hyun. “It’s now not a smooth aspect to prove, but the threat of a conviction still exists given strong suspicions approximately why the government would defy such opposition to vote in want of a debatable merger.”

The prosecution hasn’t completed presenting its case, with Park and Lee yet to testify. The former chief was eliminated from office in March after lawmakers impeached her in December following months of protests over alleged corruption. She becomes indicted in April with South Korea electing a brand new president the next month.

The criminal war over Lee at Seoul’s Central District Court has been closely monitored via South Korea’s media, and choose Kim Jin-dong, flanked by way of two junior justices, has convened hearings three instances almost every week, one in every of which stretched via to 1 am.

Lee has emerged as more lively as the trial has worn on. Early classes saw him sitting silently, staring straight ahead with out displaying any emotion. On 25 May, he smiled on his way to the court docket, surrounded through a gaggle of press photographers, once you have of a jail bus maintaining a report. On 1 June, he flipped via masses of pages of testimony and whispered to his attorneys as prosecutors wondered witnesses throughout the aisle. In beyond weeks, Lee has even taken to surveying the court docket audience, and all started passing notes to his lawyers in response to prosecutors’ arguments.

When prosecutors closed an April presentation with feedback that Samsung should bribe all of us it wanted to, decide Kim delivered a rebuke that it had little to do with proving Lee and Park reached a deal when they met.