South Korea's most powerful businessman said on Tuesday he
would step down after 20 years at the head of the giant
Samsung Group following his indictment last week for tax evasion and breach of trust.
The announcement by Lee Kun-hee came as a shock even in a society long used to its top businessmen being hauled into court.
"(I) deeply apologise for causing concern to the nation and
will take full responsibility for that," an expressionless
Lee said in a brief statement while dozens of senior group
executives standing behind him watched on.
The group will dismantle its powerful strategic planning
office, which critics say is an opaque organization able to
wield influence across some 60 affiliates, including
flagship company Samsung Electronics, a world leader in
computer memory chips and flat display screens.
A Samsung spokesman told reporters the reshuffle was the
start of a process that would give its companies more
transparency, its management more autonomy and end a
complicated cross-shareholding arrangement that gives Lee
enormous power despite holding a tiny stake in group
Lee's son, Lee Jae-yong, seen as being groomed to take over,
will step down from his executive post and work abroad for
the group in another, unspecified role.
Samsung group firms account for 20 percent of total market
capitalization on the main board of the South Korean bourse
The group has more than 250,000 employees and its annual
revenues of $160 billion are around the size of Singapore's
A special prosecutor in January launched a probe into
corruption allegations after a former top legal executive at
the group said some of its top management hid money and kept
a slush fund to bribe politicians, prosecutors and
The prosecutor indicted nine other top executives, but found
no evidence to support the bribery allegation. If found
guilty of tax evasion Lee could serve from five years to
life in jail.