The Economist reports Samsung CEO Lee Kun-hee has been charged with tax evasion and breach of trust:
The charges against Lee Kun-hee, the 66-year-old chairman of Samsung, seem small beer compared with the accusations. Mr Lee was publicly accused last year by Kim Yong-chul, a former chief legal counsel at the company, of orchestrating a $200m slush fund to bribe public officials. Mr Lee denied it. A special prosecutor was appointed by South Korea's National Assembly to look into the claims.
On Thursday, after a three-month investigation, Mr Lee was charged with tax evasion and breach of trust. The prosecutor, Cho Joon-woong, said that Samsung controlled hidden funds of around $4.5 billion. But allegations of bribery could not be confirmed, he said, and anyway the statute of limitations had expired. Mr Lee was charged with evading taxes of 113 billion won (around $114m) and with illegally fiddling with the books by selling corporate assets at a discount as a way to pass corporate control to his son.
Moreover, he and nine other company executives also facing charges were not detained. Shares in the group’s publicly traded companies—which range from construction and shipbuilding to optical equipment and electronics—barely shifted, a telling sign that few expect the charges to have any bite.
The mild charges and meek actions by the prosecutors clearly show South Korea’s ambivalence towards wrongdoing at the country’s chaebol. The industrial giants, often family-run, are responsible for the country’s rise to prosperity and prominence over the past two decades. Yet today their enormous power is questioned and occasional infractions criticised, as the country strives to adhere to global norms of accountability, transparency and corporate governance. At the same time, however, South Korea resists holding the groups fully to account, lest it jeopardise economic growth.