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South Korean court tosses out arrest warrant for Samsung chief

A Seoul court has rejected a request to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung head Lee Jae-yong. The heir to the country's largest conglomerate has been ensnared in a widening corruption scandal involving the president.

The Seoul Central District Court turned down the request on Thursday in the latest twist in an ongoing corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye.

Lee, the head of the Samsung Group, was accused of giving or promising around 43 billion won ($36.5 million, 34.4 million euros) to Park's secret confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in order to ensure the state pension fund's approval of a merger between two Samsung affiliates. That merger was viewed as key to assuring Lee's hereditary succession of power at Samsung, after his father's heart attack in 2014 left a power vacuum at the conglomerate.

Südkorea Prozess Samsung Lee Jae Yong (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)

Lee seen shortly before the court hearing deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant

After reviewing the case against Lee, the judge said the prosecution had failed to deliver sufficient evidence. "After reviewing the contents and the process of the investigation so far...it is difficult to acknowledge the necessity and substantiality of an arrest at the current stage," the judge said in a statement.

As part of the investigation, Lee was questioned for 22 hours and held overnight on Wednesday while the court deliberated.

Calls for Park to step down

Park has found herself in an ongoing scandal over evidence that she had colluded with Choi, the daughter of a cult leader close to the president's family, to extract money from companies for two foundations controlled by the government.

Südkorea Protest gegen Präsidentin Park Geun Hye & Forderung nach Rücktritt (Reuters/K. Hong-Ji)

Protestors carrying an effigy of South Korean President Park Geun-hye

Choi was arrested in November, and in the following month parliament voted to impeach Park. However, the president has retained her position, albeit with diminished powers, while the country's constitutional court deliberates the matter. If the court decides to uphold the impeachment, Park will be the country's first democratically elected leader to be kicked out of office.

Meanwhile, successive mass protests have taken place across the country since November, with opponents of the president calling for her to step down regardless of the court's ruling.

Park, daughter of South Korea's late military dictator Park Chung-hee, has apologized for her relationship with Choi but has denied the charges leveled against her.

blc/gsw (AFP, Reuters)

Watch video 03:15

Jason Strother on South Korean corruption scandal

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