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Samsung Chief Cleared of Bribery Charges
Prosecutors cite lack of evidence for calling off case
Terence Mitchell (terence)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2005-12-16 19:07 (KST)   
South Korean prosecutors will clear all charges of corruption and bribery against Lee Gun Hee, head of Samsung Group Inc., citing a lack of evidence and explaining the charges expired due to a five-year statue of limitations on charges of private illegal donations.

The case started earlier this year when South Korean news media ran stories alleging Lee's brother-in-law, Lee Hak Soo, was caught on tape in 1997 discussing bribes of up to $10 million dollars for future presidential candidates running for office in South Korea.

Lee Gun Hee
©2005 Kwan W.S.
The scandal snowballed when the Korean Intelligence Agency announced they conducted thousands of secret tapings of confidential meetings among prominent companies such as Samsung and politicians. But most of the recordings were destroyed soon after their use for intelligence gathering purposes.

Following the outpouring of anger by netizens regarding Samsung's illicit donations, the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) decided to bring charges against the Samsung heads Lee Gun Hee and Lee Hak Soo.

The civil organization also filed complaints against Lee Hoi Chang, the presidential candidate who received the most in illicit donations, and Hong Seok Hyun, who was at that time Korean ambassador to the United States and had acted as an intermediary between Samsung and Lee Hoi Chang.

Although Hong resigned at the time of the allegations, and Lee Hak-soo of Samsung decided to go the United States to receive "medical treatment" for an indefinite period, Samsung decided to fight the allegations in court.

Yesterday, senior prosecutor Hwang Kyo-jin explained that none of those charged with bribery would be indicted of any charges since the "taped evidence has already been destroyed by the Korean Intelligence Agency," while "the statute of limitations on illegal private donations is only five years, and has already expired."

The PSPD expressed their disappointment yesterday after hearing the prosecutor's decision, explaining that the Samsung executives should have charged him for using company funds to bribe politicians, which has a 10-year statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, much to the anger of the Korean media, prosecutors yesterday decided to indict the two journalists who first broke the story, Kim Yeon Kwang of Chosun Monthly and Lee Sang Ho of MBC, for violating the Communications Privacy Protection law.

The reporters said the taped discussion between Lee Hak Soo and Ambassador Hong, was recorded unlawfully, according to the prosecutor's office.

Yesterday's ruling not to indict Samsung but to punish the journalists who tried to expose them is a clear sign that Samsung is still much too influential in government circles, analysts said.

Many netizens agree with the PSPD's suggestion that an independent prosecution team needs to be established to conduct an objective inquiry into the taping controversy and the actual extent to which Samsung was involved in illegally financing politicians.
Sources: Financial Times, Chosun Ilbo
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Terence Mitchell

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