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By | Tony Smith 16th December 2005 10:25

Samsung chairman in clear on bribery charge

Insufficient evidence

Senior Samsung staffers no longer face charges that they bribed local politicians, the Seoul District Prosecutors Office said this week.

Officials said there was insufficient evidence for the claims, and in any case the deadline for action set by South Korea's statute of limitations has now passed.

The allegations were prompted in July this year when local media published tapes of a conversation between Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, vice-chairman Lee Hak-soo, the chairman's brother-in-law and Hong Seok-hyun, South Korea’s ambassador to the US.

The tapes were said to record them negotiating a KRW10bn ($9.8m) donation to a presidential candidate.

However, the recording was made in 1997, more than seven years ago - the limit set by the country's statute of limitations. The Prosecutors Office also said there was no evidence the money being offered belonged to Samsung and not Lee, who has always maintained the money was a donation not a bribe. Lee is being sued for alleged debts relating to Samsung's now-closed automobile business, the Financial Times reports.

The tapes were made by South Korean security agencies - actions that have since been declared "illegal" by Hwang Kyo-ahn, the senior prosecutor who headed the investigation.

"The prosecution has conducted a thorough investigation of the spy agency’s illegal wiretapping operations on politicians, businessmen, judicial officials and journalists in the past governments,” he said. "However, with the statute of limitations on most illegal activities... expiring and the spy agency already having destroyed a significant part of related evidence, there had been difficulties in pushing ahead the investigation." ®

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