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Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Head of Samsung expresses regret over share scandal

AFP , SEOUL

Samsung Group chief Lee Kun-hee has expressed regret for a graft scandal involving him and the richest conglomerate in South Korea, ending a five-month overseas trip to return home.

Lee, in a wheelchair with his right leg in a plaster cast, arrived at a Seoul airport late on Saturday from Japan, YTN television news showed yesterday.

"I'm sorry for causing troubles in the past year. I think I'm wholly responsible as an individual," Lee said upon his arrival.

He looked healthy but said he had injured his leg in a tumble.

The business tycoon had stayed abroad since he left South Korea in September when allegations snowballed that he and his group may have illegally funded politicians.

The scandal erupted as an illegal wiretapping by the country's main spy agency showed that Lee's top Samsung aide and brother-in-law had discussed the illicit funding for the 1997 presidential election.

Investigations followed, but Lee was allowed in December to avoid being indicted on a technical reason.

State prosecutors said Lee had provided up to US$5 million in illicit financing to then losing presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang but the five-year statute of limitations had already expired.

As the funding scandal was unraveling at home, the tycoon reportedly had a medical checkup in the US, a business conference in Europe and a recess in Japan.

But a second cloud lingers over Lee's family-run business empire.

Samsung Group has been under a prosecution probe of allegations of irregularities in the transfer of wealth from the tycoon to his son.

At the center of the probe is Samsung Everland, which controls the group through a web of ownership links which include a 19.3 percent controlling stake in Samsung Life Insurance and major holdings in other group affiliates.

Samsung Everland helped Lee pass on control of the business empire to his son, Lee Jae-yong, and other siblings in a controversial way.

Lee Jae-yong is alleged to have bought 1.25 million Samsung Everland shares at 7,700 won (US$7.90) per share -- far lower than the lowest trading price of 85,000 won at the time.

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