A South Korean independent counsel team investigating the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye arrested the former health and welfare minister early Wednesday on his suspected pressure of the national pension fund into approving last year's merger of two affiliates of Samsung Group.
Moon Hyung-pyo, the former welfare minister, was summoned on Tuesday morning as a reference witness and has been under an emergency arrest since early Wednesday, the special prosecutor team said in a text message.
He was detained as his testimony was inconsistent with evidences and other testimonies the team had secured, raising possibility for his intentional destruction of another evidence he owns. Whether he will be formally arrested can be decided upon after additional questioning for as long as 48 hours.
It was the first detention of a person suspected of being involved in the scandal since the team officially kicked off its investigation a week earlier. The detention indicated the independent probe is being centered on bribery allegations between Samsung, President Park and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Moon is suspected of having pressured the National Pension Service (NPS) into voting for the merger in July last year between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries despite strong oppositions from foreign investors on an unfair merger ratio.
The NPS, which is estimated to have suffered hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in loss from its investment into the Samsung affiliate, was the largest Samsung C&T shareholder at the time.
The deal was extremely crucial to Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to inherit the management control of Samsung Group, South Korea's largest family-run conglomerate, from his father Chairman Lee Kun-hee who has been hospitalized for over two and a half years on heart attack.
Samsung is suspected of having provided financial assistance to Chung Yoo-ra, daughter of Choi Soon-sil, for her equestrian training. The assistance is estimated to have been offered in return for the successful merger.
If it proves that Park ordered Moon to support the Samsung merger, the impeached president will face bribery charges that can lead to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Samsung's vice chairman Lee has been prohibited from leaving South Korea on his possible involvement in the bribery.