YOUKYUNG LEE, AP
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A Seoul court denied a request to arrest Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, a setback to prosecutors investigating an influence-peddling scandal that toppled South Korea’s president.
The Seoul Central District Court said Thursday that a judge concluded that there was not enough reason to detain the 48-year-old Samsung heir at this stage.
The announcement, made around 5 a.m. local time, allows Lee to return home after a long night. He had been waiting for the court’s decision at a detention center south of Seoul for more than 12 hours after a court hearing the previous day.
It is not uncommon in South Korea to issue an arrest warrant past midnight for cases that are important and have many contentious points, said Shin Jae-hwan, a spokesman for the Seoul court. The long deliberation reflects that the judge must have been agonizing over the decision, he added.
Prosecutors accused him of giving 43 billion won ($36 million) in bribes to President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil, her confidante, seeking support for a contentious merger. They also suspect him of embezzling and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing last month.
Their plan to expand the bribery probe to Park may have hit a snag with the denial of the request to arrest Lee.
Samsung avoided what could have been a stunning fall for the princeling of the country’s richest family who has been groomed to lead South Korea’s most successful company.
Lee has been serving as the de facto head of Samsung since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014. Shortly after the recalls of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last year, he joined the board of Samsung Electronics, the group’s crown jewel.
Conglomerates like Samsung, known as chaebol, dominate the Asian country’s economy, jobs and investment.
Some business groups and newspapers urged caution out of concern that arresting Lee could hurt the economy because of Samsung’s huge role in South Korean industry. Samsung Electronics and its affiliated companies account for about a third of the market value in South Korea’s main stock market.
But civic groups called for Lee’s arrest to show that all are equal before the law. Many were infuriated by the allegations that the government had pressured a pension fund, a major investor in Samsung, to help the Lee family’s succession plan.
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