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Bribery trial of Samsung heir focuses on father-to-son succession

The scion of South Korea's Samsung business empire, Lee Jae-yong, has appeared in court to face trial for bribery and other charges.

Lee listened in silence on Friday as South Korean prosecutors presented a slew of evidence they said showed why and how the 48-year-old used 43 billion won (£30.4 million) in corporate funds to bribe the country's impeached president, Park Geun-hye, and a close confidante, mainly in exchange for supporting a smooth leadership transition at Samsung.

The prosecutors focused on Lee's alleged motivation for seeking government help with a father-to-son leadership transition in the country's largest business group.

Samsung has denied any wrongdoing and Lee, who was arrested in February, has pleaded not guilty.

Lee assumed de facto leadership of the conglomerate after his father, Lee Kun-hee, who is Samsung Electronics' chairman, fell ill in May 2014.

Stakes in the trial in Seoul are high for both sides, since it involves the princeling of South Korea's richest family.

Prosecutors blamed close ties between the government and big business for the scandal which toppled Ms Park and has implicated dozens of other people at a number of chaebol, or big business conglomerates.

Such relations may have aided South Korea's rapid economic ascent but are now a source of growing public discontent and a key target of contenders in a May 9 snap presidential election.

For Samsung, a conviction could damage Lee's stature as future leader of the company founded by his grandfather.

The prosecutors said their evidence includes 39 handwritten notebooks where a former economic adviser of the impeached South Korean president scribbled down her orders.

They argued that the huge sum of corporate money was used for Lee's personal benefit - to secure a business merger and lobby regulators to help strengthen his control over Samsung.

Lee is "the biggest beneficiary who reaped enormous profits", said special prosecutor Yang Jae-sik, according to a media pool report.

Mr Yang denied Lee's argument that Samsung was coerced into giving Ms Park and Choi Soon-sil money, saying the victims of the dealings were national pension fund holders, affiliates of Samsung and its shareholders, who suffered losses due to a merger allegedly engineered for Lee's sake.

Lee faces five charges and faces at least five years in prison if he is found guilty. A ruling is expected by late May.

One of his lawyers, Song Woo-chul, presented about 70 slides in a presentation, contending the prosecutors' argument was unreal and "full of contradictions".

The lawyer said Samsung was unaware of Ms Park's friend Choi until after the scandal over their relationship and allegations of influence-peddling surfaced late last year.

Samsung did not need Ms Park's help with the 2015 merger, which was aimed at helping Samsung's future growth, not aiding the leadership succession, the lawyer contended.

"Prosecutors argue that Lee Jae-yong needed to take excessive measures for the leadership succession due to the sudden illness of chairman Lee Kun-hee. But there was no such need," he said.

AP

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