Samsung boss is a suspect in a South Korean political scandal

The company may have illegally influenced government support for a key merger.

Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images

South Korea is currently embroiled in a massive corruption scandal: President Park Geun-hye is facing impeachment after word broke that her 'friend,' Choi Soon-sil, had cult-like control over Park that included access to sensitive info and forced donations to Choi's foundations. And now, it looks like Samsung's highest leadership might be caught up in the whole affair. The country's special prosecutor's office has named effective Samsung leader Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (aka Jay Y. Lee) as a suspect in a case alleging that Samsung illegally influenced government decisions. Investigators are worried that roughly $25 million in payments to a Choi business and foundations may have convinced the national pension fund to support a merger of two Samsung affiliate companies. It may have offered bribes, in other words.

Lee will face questioning on January 12th. It's doubtful he'll tell officials what they'd like to hear, though. While Samsung has acknowledged that it paid Choi's organizations, Lee and others have insisted that they weren't trying to grease the wheels for the merger.

There's no guarantee that Lee will face arrest, let alone conviction. However, the very fact that he's a suspect won't look good for Samsung, which has bent over backwards to keep its ruling family in power. Lee's father (Chairman Lee Kun-hee) has been pardoned more than once for crimes like tax evasion, and the last time only because the government wanted his help securing the 2018 Winter Olympics. What happens if his son also faces possible prison time? It'll further tarnish Samsung's reputation, of course, but it could also cause chaos for a firm that has never had someone besides a Lee running the show.