A South Korean special prosecutor's office will question Samsung Group leader Jay Y Lee as a suspect in the widening influence-peddling scandal that led to a parliamentary vote to impeach President Park Geun-hye.
- Prosecutors are investigating $33.85 million worth of payments made by Samsung
- The money went to foundations backed by a friend of impeached President Park Geun-hye
- The friend, Choi Soon-sil, has been charged with bribery and other crimes
Prosecutors have been looking into whether Samsung payments of about 30 billion won ($33.85 million) for a business and foundations backed by Ms Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, were connected to a 2015 decision by the national pension service to back a controversial merger of two Samsung group affiliates.
National Pension Service chief Moon Hyung-pyo was arrested in December after acknowledging he pressured the fund to approve the merger between Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries Inc in 2015 while he was health minister.
Ms Park has described it as a policy decision made by the world's third-largest pension fund in the national interest.
Mr Lee denied bribery accusations during a parliamentary hearing in December, rejecting assertions from lawmakers that Samsung lobbied to get the fund to vote in favour of the merger.
The special prosecutors' office said it was looking into whether Mr Lee gave false testimony during the parliamentary hearing.
Samsung has acknowledged making contributions to two foundations as well as a consulting firm controlled by Ms Choi.
Questioning will relate to bribery suspicions
The prosecution this week summoned two senior Samsung Group officials for questioning, though they were listed as witnesses.
Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the special prosecution team, told a briefing the Samsung leader had been summoned for questioning over suspicions including bribery, but did not elaborate.
"All possibilities are open," the spokesman replied, when asked if the prosecution team would request an arrest warrant for Mr Lee.
A Samsung Group spokeswoman declined to comment.
Mr Lee, the vice chairman of flagship affiliate Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, has been leading South Korea's top conglomerate since his father, founding family patriarch Lee Kun-hee, was incapacitated following a May 2014 heart attack.
"The special prosecutor needs Samsung to establish a potential bribery charge against President Park Geun-hye," said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.
"Samsung is the one that has made the biggest contributions among conglomerates and it had an exclusive relationship with Choi Soon-sil, buying a horse," Mr Shin said, referring to the firm's sponsorship of Ms Choi's daughter's equestrian career.
The daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, was arrested in Denmark this month after being sought by South Korean authorities.