After being summoned by prosecutors on suspicion of bribery last week, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong is likely to face formal arrest. Samsung has denied making donations to a confidante of President Park Guen-hye's.
The 48-year-old Samsung Electronics vice chairman faces allegations of embezzlement, offering bribes and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing on the scandal, a spokesman for the special prosecutors said on Monday.
Samsung is suspected of giving 43 billion won ($36 million, 34 million euros) to Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye's, in return for government support for a controversial merger, prosecutors said.
"The special prosecutor's office, in making this decision to seek an arrest warrant, determined that while the country's economic conditions are important, upholding justice takes precedence," Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the office, told a media briefing.
A Seoul court announced that it would review the prosecutors' arrest request on Wednesday.
Part of the money given to Choi allegedly was embezzled by Lee, prosecutors said.
Lee, who is considered the de facto boss of the entire Samsung conglomerate, was summoned last Thursday to be questioned by an independent counsel.
Park, South Korea's first female president, is facing charges of corruption, abuse of power and violating constitutional duties in an impeachment trial that began earlier this month.
Choi has been jailed and faces trial, accused of colluding with Park to pressure big businesses to contribute to nonprofit foundations that backed the president's initiatives.
Prosecutors have been looking into whether Samsung's backing for a business and foundations backed by Choi might have been connected to the National Pension Service's 2015 decision to support a controversial $8 billion (7.5 billion euro) merger of two Samsung Group affiliates.
The deal was opposed by many investors who said it willfully undervalued the shares in one of the units.
In an appearance at the Constitutional Court on Monday, Choi denied having prior knowledge of the Samsung merger.
Meanwhile, some analysts think that Lee's arrest could have an impact on the South Korean economy, as Samsung is the largest business group by revenue - raking in the equivalent of a fifth of the country's gross domestic product.
mm/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)