By Alex Jensen
South Korea’s arguably most influential business leader was placed behind bars Friday, as a court approved a second arrest warrant request for Samsung’s acting chief Lee Jae-yong.
The 48-year-old son of ailing Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee has for months been embroiled in the same bribery scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in December.
He is accused of paying tens of millions of dollars to ensure government support for a 2015 merger of Samsung affiliates, seen as key to the succession of power within the Lee family that rules South Korea's largest conglomerate.
Prosecutors failed to arrest Lee last month, unable to prove the necessity of his detention to the Seoul Central District Court. Investigators bolstered their case ahead of the start of the hearing into the latest request Thursday, including with added charges related to concealing illegal profits and transferring assets abroad.
Lee's defense has consistently been that Samsung paid out donations with no strings attached under pressure from the president.
He can now be held for a maximum of 21 days until he is officially indicted.
His arrest immediately placed Samsung Group on "high alert" over the effects of a leadership vacuum, according to local news agency Yonhap, amid the latest developments could have negative consequences for the South Korean economy.
"It is very regrettable that the court granted an arrest warrant against Vice Chairman Lee, although there is no flight risk or destruction of evidence," a Samsung official was quoted as saying, the news agency said.
One area of business that could be affected is Samsung Electronics' $8 billion acquisition of American Harman tech firm. Harman shareholders are set to vote on the deal later this week.