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Corruption

Samsung Group leader questioned behind closed doors in arrest warrant hearing

Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong has appeared in court as judges deliberate for a second time on whether he should be arrested. Lee is accused of offering bribes to President Park Geun-hye and her close friend.

A South Korean judge questioned Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong  and another executive behind closed doors on Thursday in a second hearing on whether to issue an arrest warrant.

Neither man answered questions from reporters. Groups of protesters - some calling for Lee's arrest with others demanding the warrant request to be dismissed - gathered outside the courthouse in Seoul.

Prosecutors are seeking permission for a second time to arrest the 48-year-old Samsung heir and accuse him of giving bribes worth $36 million (33.9 million euros) to President Park Geun-hye and her friend, Choi Soon-sil to win government support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung companies.

The funding also included Samsung's sponsorship of the equestrian career of Choi's daughter, who is currently being detained in Denmark after being sought by South Korean authorities.

The scandal led parliament to impeach Park in December and strip her of presidential powers while the Constitutional Court deliberates on whether to uphold her impeachment.

Prosecutors are also investigating Lee over possible embezzlement, perjury and hiding assets overseas. The court rejected a first attempt to arrest the Samsung heir last month, citing a lack of evidence. 

If the court approves the arrest warrant, prosecutors will be able to take him into custody for a maximum of 21 days before they press charges.

Lee, Park, Choi and the Samsung Group all deny any wrongdoing.

Samsung Group repeated an earlier denial of the charges on its official Twitter account, writing: "Samsung has absolutely never bribed the president seeking something in return or sought illicit favors."

Lee's arrest could deal a significant blow to Samsung, the world's biggest maker of smartphones and flat screen televisions, and could potentially hamper decision-making in new investments and acquisitions.

rs/rt     (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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