Seoul, Dec 28 (IANS) South Korea’s former Welfare Minister was arrested on Wednesday for his suspected pressure on the national pension fund to approve last year’s merger of two affiliates of Samsung Group.
A South Korean independent counsel team probing the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye arrested Moon Hyung-pyo, who was summoned on Tuesday as a reference witness, Xinhua news agency reported.
He has been under an emergency arrest since early Wednesday, the special prosecutor team said.
He was detained as his testimony was inconsistent with evidences and other testimonies the team had secured, raising possibility for his intentional destruction of another evidence he owns.
It was the first detention of a person suspected of being involved in the scandal since the team officially kicked off its investigation a week earlier.
The detention indicated the independent probe was being centered on bribery allegations between Samsung, Park and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Moon is suspected of having pressured the National Pension Service into voting for the merger in July last year between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries despite strong opposition from foreign investors on an unfair merger ratio.
The NPS, which is estimated to have suffered hundreds of millions of US dollars in loss from its investment into the Samsung affiliate, was the largest Samsung C&T shareholder at the time.
The deal was extremely crucial to Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to inherit the management control of Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest family-run conglomerate, from his father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee who has been hospitalised for over two and a half years.
Samsung is suspected of having provided financial assistance to Chung Yoo-ra, daughter of Choi Soon-sil, for her equestrian training.
If it proves that Park ordered Moon to support the Samsung merger, the impeached President will face bribery charges that can lead to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Samsung’s Vice Chairman Lee has been prohibited from leaving South Korea for his possible involvement in the bribery.