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Prosecutors launch an investigation into Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong's shell company and its Swiss account

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Starting on October 4, 2021, KCIJ-Newstapa reports the findings of the project “The Pandora Papers: Koreans who Fled to Tax Havens 2021.” It is a collaborative project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ) which was joined by more than 600 journalists from all over the world. This global team of journalists has been investigating over 11.9 million documents leaked from 14 offshore service providers, including Trident Trust, Alcogal and IL SHIN CPA and IL SHIN Corporate Consulting.

– Editor’s Note -

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Korean prosecutors launched an investigation into Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s de facto boss for his offshore shell company and alleged opening of a Swiss bank account.

The investigation was launched two weeks after Lee’s shell company was unveiled as part of the Pandora Papers, reported by the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism(KCIJ)-Newstapa and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ)’ cross-border investigation team.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office assigned the investigation on Lee’s case to its proceeds of the crime restitution department on Thursday. The restitution department mainly investigates hidden assets and money laundering, aiming to restitute the money.

The crackdown came after the liberal Justice Party filed a criminal complaint to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Oct. 15 for tax evasion, diverting of assets outside of the country and hiding proceeds of the crime.

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▲Documents of the BVI company Bachury Finance Corp. included a passport copy of Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.
“A passport copy containing Lee's photo and signature was revealed thanks to KCIJ-Newstapa’s report”, the Justice Party wrote in its letter of the crime complaint. “This is clear evidence, which would have never been unveiled like this if Lee didn't take part in obtaining this company himself."

The Party called for the need for an impartial investigation, arguing that “considering Lee’s past actions like taking over management authority through illegal succession, we cannot help but wonder if Lee obtained a shell company in a tax haven to open an account eventually to make it a 'secret account' for siphoning off his father's hidden slush funds outside Korea."

It emphasized that “the only way to find the truth is an investigation from law enforcement agencies, as Samsung and Lee keep silent on this allegation.”

Civic groups also called for a thorough investigation on Lee through statements.

People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy published a statement about Lee’s BVI company and its Swiss bank account Thursday to demand the tax authority an investigation.

“The current Adjustment of International Taxes Act requires foreign financial accounts worth more than KRW 500 million (USD 424,628) to be reported, and fines are imposed if the obligations are not fulfilled," the Solidarity statement pointed out, emphasizing that Lee’s highly likely have violated the obligation as he obtained the BVI shell company through UBS Wealth Management, which provides services to clients with deposit of at least USD 2 million.

Another civic group Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice also demanded the prosecutors to investigate Lee in its statement, calling for a need to cancel Lee’s parole if Lee’s asset hiding allegation is clarified.

"What Lee did needs to be investigated carefully,” the Coalition wrote. “It can be considered different crimes according to different laws, a tax evasion under the Tax Offender Penalty Act, hiding assets offshore under the National Tax Adjustment Penalty Act and under the Specific Economic Crimes Act, and money laundering under the Crime Profit Transfer Prevention Act."

A statement from a civic group, Spec Watch Korea demanded the Korean National Tax Service to launch an investigation on all Koreans with offshore nominee accounts including Lee and collect the unpaid tax.

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▲KCIJ-Newstapa published the Pandora Papers stories starting Oct. 4 as a result of a cross-border investigation with ICIJ and its media partners.
KCIJ-Newstapa published a series of Pandora Papers stories starting Oct. 4 as a result of a cross-border investigation with ICIJ and its media partners. On Oct. 7, Newstapa released a story that Samsung’s de facto boss Lee Jae-yong obtained a BVI-based shell company called Bachury Finance Corp. and managed it through Trident Trust, the world’s largest offshore service provider.

In its follow-up story on Oct. 8, KCIJ-Newstapa reported that Lee obtained the BVI shell company to hold a UBS bank account in Zurich, Switzerland, through the bank’s wealth management arm.

뉴스타파 김지윤 jiyoon@newstapa.org


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