Samsung's leader has been arrested on corruption charges

Prosecutors wanted Lee arrested earlier in January, but at that point, not enough evidence had been gathered and the judge denied their request.

The court is also deliberating an arrest warrant for another Samsung executive, who is also the head of Korea Equestrian Federation, over bribery charges. It's suggested that Lee's role was to order Samsung to provide funds to President Park's associate Choi (and others) in exchange for preferential governmental measures.

Lee arrived at the special prosecutor's office at about 2:20 pm (0520 GMT) clean-shaven and expressionless. It said on Friday it will indict him on charges including bribery, embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and perjury.

"We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest", a judge said in his ruling. "We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings", Samsung said in a statement after Lee's arrest. In December, the court said that prosecutors had not made a sufficient case for Lee's detention, an interim victory for Samsung.

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Lee's absence, ahead of what could be a lengthy trial, could also see a bigger role for Kwon Oh-hyun, Samsung Electronics' vice chairman and current CEO.

The National Pension Service, a major Samsung shareholder, is suspected of supporting the merger on Choi's instruction. That said, the conglomerate is now going through a restructuring to clear a succession path for Lee to assume control after his father suffered a heart attack in 2014, suggesting strategic decision-making on the issue could be affected.

Samsung is South Korea's largest business group and its revenue is equivalent to about a fifth of the country's GDP. The impeachment of President Park Geun-hye is still waiting for the Constitutional Court to make a final decision.

She, too, denies wrongdoing, but has expressed regret for the way in which she conducted her relationship with Choi.

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Although Jay Lee was arrested and might be convicted, it is unlikely he will serve jail time for very long - if at all.

Prosecutors accuse Samsung of paying bribes totalling 43 billion won ($37.74 million) to organizations linked to South Korean President Park Geun-hye's friend, Choi Soon-sil, to secure government backing for the merger.

"We hope it marks a beginning to end our society's evil practice of cozy ties between government and corporations and move towards a fair country", said Kim Kyoung-soo, a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, a member of the liberal opposition Democratic Party who is leading opinion polls in the presidential race.

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