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Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong denies charges as bribery trial begins

Why it matters to you

South Korea's trial of the century has kicked off, and its embattled defendant, Lee Jae-yong, has denied any fault in his initial court appearance.

In his first court appearance in what is being called “the trial of the century,” Samsung executive and company board Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong denied claims that he sent bribes to South Korea’s former president in order to expand his influence over the company. Lee is also being charged with embezzlement and perjury.

According to the official charges, the Samsung leader, who is essentially the acting chairman and is the third generation of his family to run the company, offered $38 million in bribes to the now-imprisoned Park Geun-hye, as well as her close friend Choi Soon-sil. His lawyers have said that evidence suggesting any wrongdoing is “based on presumptions,” and have pledged to engage in a lengthy lawsuit that could last past the end of this year.

While Samsung has admitted to the massive payment amounts, the company has insisted that they were not meant to help the organization in any way. The prosecution, of course, disagrees, noting that the large sums were meant to win the official green light for a controversial merger of Samsung affiliates in 2015. This merger is said to have been instrumental in giving Lee further control over Samsung.

Defense lawyers argued that Lee did not need the government’s assistance in completing the deal.

While the ongoing trial is certainly a concern for Samsung, it doesn’t seem to have significantly hamstrung its business. On Friday, the company announced a 48-percent increase in estimated operating profits for the first quarter of 2017. Estimated revenue did not appear to change, staying steady at $44 billion. But with the company gearing up to release its first flagship phone since the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, it seems as though Samsung could certainly benefit from undistracted leadership at this contentious time.