Samsung, which has vigorously denied bribery charges in a snowballing corruption scandal, sustained another blow to its image Monday when a former legal adviser to President Roh Moo-hyun said the company had once offered him a cash bribe.
The former aide, Lee Yong-chul, who also served as a presidential monitor against corruption, said the money — 5 million won ($5,445) — was delivered to him in January 2004 as a holiday gift from a Samsung Electronics executive, but that he immediately returned it.
Before sending it back, Lee said, he took pictures of the cash package, which were released to the news media Monday.
“I was outraged by Samsung’s brazenness, by its attempt to bribe a presidential aide in charge of fighting corruption,” Lee said in a written statement released at a news conference by a civic organization. He did not attend the event.
James Chung, a spokesman for Samsung Electronics, said, “We are trying to find out the facts around these allegations.”
Samsung Electronics is the mainstay of the 59-subsidiary Samsung conglomerate and a world leader in computer chips, flat-panel television screens and cell phones.
Lee’s accusation appeared to support recent assertions by a former chief lawyer at Samsung, Kim Yong-chul, that the conglomerate had run a vast network that bribed officials, prosecutors, tax collectors, journalists and scholars on behalf of Samsung’s chairman, Lee Kun-hee.
Prosecutors are investigating Kim’s accusations, and political parties have introduced legislation that would establish an independent counsel.
Opposition political parties say an independent prosecutor is needed because Kim identified the president’s new chief prosecutor, Lim Chai-jin, as one of many prosecutors to have received bribes from Samsung. Lim denied the assertion.
Roh’s office dismissed the call for an independent counsel as an election-year political maneuver. The South Korean presidential election is scheduled Dec. 19.
As the scandal expanded, the chairman, Lee Kun-hee, was absent Monday from a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of his father, Lee Byung-chul, Samsung’s founder. Company officials cited a “serious cold and illness from fatigue.”
Lee Yong-chul, the former presidential aide, now a partner at a law firm in Seoul, issued his statement and pictures through the National Movement to Unveil Illegal Activities by Samsung and Its Chairman, an organization that was started by civic groups after Kim’s allegations were made public.
Calls to Lee’s office were not returned Monday.
“This is proof that Samsung’s bribery has reached not only prosecutors but the very core of political power, the Blue House,” the group said at the news conference, referring to the South Korean presidential office. Roh’s office called that assertion “pure speculation.”