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Samsung, Lotte heads line up for biggest Korean corruption probe

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South Korea starts what could be its biggest parliamentary hearing in history this week, as the heads of industrial behemoths Samsung and Hyundai line up with seven other top business leaders to be grilled by lawmakers over President Park Geun-hye’s influence-peddling scandal. The National Assembly’s special investigation hearing of the leaders of the so-called chaebol conglomerates will air nationwide from Tuesday at 10am in Seoul, an official at the investigation committee said. Eighteen lawmakers — nine from the ruling Saenuri party and nine from opposition groups — will question the billionaires about tens of millions of dollars given to foundations controlled by Ms Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the centre of the influence scandal. SEE ALSO: South Korean cosmetics: The big winners in China The hearing comes at the end of a tumultuous year for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, which is struggling to maintain economic growth. Samsung’s exploding phones, the collapse of Hanjin Shipping Co and investigations into the conduct of the head of the Lotte retail group eroded confidence in the nation’s industrial system. Its shipbuilding and steel industries are facing difficulties, and Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol has cited record household debt as a risk to financial stability. It’s the first time all the heads of the biggest family-run chaebols, who usually shun talking to the public, have been called together to give evidence to parliament. A key question will be whether they gave donations to Ms Choi’s foundations at the request of President Park, seeking preferential regulations or approvals: In other words, whether they gave bribes. The biggest tycoon facing questioning will be Jay Y Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co, and the son and probable successor of 74-year-old Group chairman Lee Kun-hee. Those summoned to appear Tuesday include Chung’s son Chung Mong-koo, head of Hyundai Motor Group. The other chairmen due to be questioned are LG’s Koo Bon-moo, Hanhwa Group’s Kim Seung-youn, Hanjin’s Cho Yang-ho, Sohn Kyung-shik at CJ Group, and Huh Chang-soo, head of GS Group.

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