* Corporate chiefs deny seeking favours
* Protests as chaebol bosses gather to give evidence
* President Park says to accept result of Friday impeachment
(Adds Samsung's Lee's comments about key strategy office, Park
comment on impeachment)
By Se Young Lee and Yun Hwan Chae
SEOUL, Dec 6 South Korean corporate chiefs told
a parliamentary panel on Tuesday that they were not seeking
favours when they made contributions to two foundations at the
heart of a scandal that appears poised to bring down President
Still, the head of the GS Group, one of the nine
conglomerate bosses summoned to appear at the unprecedented
televised hearing, acknowledged that it was hard to say no to
"It's a South Korean reality that if there is a government
request, it is difficult for companies to decline," said Huh
Chang-soo, who heads the energy-to-retail GS Group and is also
chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, the main lobby
group for the conglomerates known as chaebol.
The bosses of conglomerates controlling revenue equivalent
to more than half the country's economy were questioned over
whether they were pressured by Park or a friend and aide to give
money to non-profit foundations, which backed initiatives put
forth by Park, in exchange for special treatment.
Park faces an impeachment vote on Friday over the scandal,
although even if the vote succeeds it must be ratified by the
Constitutional Court, which could take months.
Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee, who sat at the centre of
the witness table, said Park had asked him during one-on-one
meetings for support for boosting cultural and sports-related
developments but did not specifically request money.
"There are often requests from various parts of society
including for culture and sports. We have never contributed
seeking quid pro quo. This case was the same," Lee said, adding
that he was embarrassed by the situation and was appearing with
a "heavy heart".
Samsung donated 20.4 billion won ($17.46 million) to the two
foundations, the most of any group, and prosecutors raided its
offices last month.
Lee denied allegations from lawmakers that Samsung lobbied
to get the National Pension Service to vote in favor of a
controversial 2015 merger between two Samsung Group affiliates
but said the conglomerate will move to clean up its act.
"I will take all responsibility related to the current
situation, legal or ethical, if there is any," said the
48-year-old Lee, the third-generation leader of the country's
biggest conglomerate, who received the lion's share of the
panel's often-hectoring questioning.
Lee denied knowledge of the group's contribution to the
foundations at the time it was made and said he recognises the
conglomerate's key future strategy office was at the centre of
"I am cautious about this since it's something that was
created by the founder chairman and then the current chairman
(Lee Kun-hee) but as there are negative perceptions about it, I
will abolish it," he said.
The office is a key organ within the Samsung Group,
responsible for major decisions such as acquisitions or entering
The family-controlled chaebol have long dominated Asia's
fourth-largest economy, working closely with the government in a
system that helped the country rebuild from the ravages of the
1950-53 Korean war, but that, critics say, is due for reform,
including improved corporate governance and transparency.
RUNNING THE GAUNTLET
The corporate titans ran a gauntlet of media and protesters
as they entered the National Assembly building that sits along
the southern bank of the Han River.
None of the chaebol, which are among 53 corporate groups
that gave money to the foundations, has been accused of any
wrongdoing in the case, but a protestor outside the
parliamentary building could be seen holding a sign saying:
"Arrest the chaebol chiefs."
Friday's impeachment vote sets the stage for Park to be the
first democratically elected South Korean leader to leave office
early in disgrace. Huge demonstrations have called for her to
quit and her approval rating has plunged to just 4 percent.
Park said on Tuesday she would accept the result of an
impeachment vote against her this week but indicated she would
not step down now, a top official of her Saenuri Party said.
The comments indicated Park had not changed her mind in the
face of intense pressure for her to resign immediately, with an
effort to impeach her gaining support from even within her own
Last week she asked parliament to find a way and a time for
her to step down, an offer that was rejected by the opposition
Democratic Party as a stalling tactic. Media reports said she
may make a speech this week offering to step down in April, a
recommendation made by her conservative Saenuri Party.
Middle school students who were leaving the parliamentary
building as chaebol bosses arrived chanted "Park Geun-hye step
down!" and a scuffle between metal workers' union members and
men who appeared to be guards broke out when Hyundai Motor Group
Chairman Chung Mong-koo, 78, arrived with his son and presumed
successor, Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun.
It is the first time such a large group of major Korean
corporate chieftains has appeared for a parliamentary hearing.
Each witness was allowed to bring one lawyer and one company
official to the hearing, and, if needed, an aide for medical
support, according to a lawmaker's office.
($1 = 1,168.3000 won)
(Reporting by Se Young Lee, Tony Munroe, Yun Hwan Chae, Jack
Kim, Hyunjoo Jin, Ju-min Park, Jeong Eun Lee and Nataly Pak;
Editing by Michael Perry and Muralikumar Anantharaman)