Lee Jae-yong. Picture: REUTERS
Lee Jae-yong. Picture: REUTERS

Seoul — An external review panel in South Korea recommended that prosecutors do not indict Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong over a 2015 merger and alleged accounting fraud, the supreme prosecutors’ office (SPO) said on Friday.

The recommendation could help pave the way for Lee’s attorneys to challenge the justification for the prosecution’s case to try him on charges stemming from the merger of two Samsung affiliates.

The panel comprised 15 experts from fields including legal circles, academia, media and civic groups. Its recommendation is not binding, but the prosecutors have followed such panels’ advice in all eight previous instances, legal experts said.

“The majority of the external review, panel composed of 14 members as one member did not attend the meeting, voted to recommend prosecutors not indict Lee and halt the investigation against him,” a spokesperson at the SPO said,

The SPO has the option to form such a panel when either the prosecution or a defendant requests a review of experts, the ministry of government legislation said.

The recommendation is a boost for Lee’s defence because the precedent of the panel review is in their favour, a criminal defence lawyer not involved in the case said. “The prosecutors have to be affected by the panel’s decision because now they’re going to need to further justify their reasoning to bring Lee to a trial.” 

A Seoul court this month denied an arrest warrant request for Lee, vice-chair of Samsung Electronics, after prosecutors accused him of accounting fraud and stock manipulation.

Prosecutors had asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Lee as part of a probe into alleged accounting fraud involving a Samsung drugs affiliate and a merger of two other affiliates.

They said fraudulent accounting and alleged stock manipulation helped facilitate Lee’s plan to assume greater control over the Samsung Group. Lee’s attorneys have denied the allegations.

Lee was jailed for about a year, until his release in February 2018, for his role in a bribery scandal. He was accused of giving horses to the daughter of a confidant of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye to win government support for the merger of the two affiliates.

Reuters