* Jay Y. Lee's trial on corruption charges began on March 9
* Lee has unlimited access to lawyers, daily visit from
* Warden has discretion to grant additional special meetings
* Samsung executives have been photographed visiting him
* Company has not replaced Lee while he is in detention
By Se Young Lee and Jane Chung
SEOUL, March 14 The head of South Korea's
Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, may be languishing in a
jail cell but he is allowed plenty of visitors, which may allow
him to play a key role in corporate decisions even if he isn't
running the conglomerate like he did before.
Lee, who didn't attend last Thursday's preparatory hearing
for his trial on bribery, embezzlement and other charges, is
kept well away from other inmates at the Seoul Detention Centre.
Some, such as top former presidential advisors, are also
defendants in the corruption scandal that led to the removal
from office of South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday.
Under South Korean regulations, though, Lee can meet any of
his battery of attorneys without time limits and as often as he
wants during business hours from Monday to Saturday.
One of those lawyers told the first day of what special
prosecutors described as potentially "the trial of the century"
that Lee denies all charges against him.
Lee, like others in detention centers awaiting trial, is
also entitled to one 30-minute visit per day from someone else,
including executives from one of Samsung’s affiliates, or at
least 12 hours of such meetings a month. At the discretion of
the warden of the detention center, he could have additional
special meetings in a visiting room that doesn't have
partitions, allowing detainees to review documents and receive
By comparison, in the United States, a defendant in federal
custody on corporate crime charges is generally allowed
unrestricted access to attorneys during regular business hours
but can only receive other visitors for a maximum four hours a
month. In the U.S., though, major white collar defendants are
usually allowed to post bail so they can live at home before
NO NEED FOR "ALTERNATIVES"
South Korean media have photographed former Samsung Group
Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
President Rhee In-yong visiting Lee following his
Feb 17 arrest.
Samsung declined to confirm those visits or comment on the
level of Lee's involvement in management affairs since he was
detained. It did say that he is meeting regularly with his
defense team, though declined to be more specific.
In a statement it said: "Mr. Lee's priority is preparing the
legal defense so the truth can be revealed in future court
Samsung hasn't named a replacement for Lee, who company
insiders say did not manage day-to-day affairs but was instead
acting as the key decision maker on major initiatives such as
new investments, acquisitions, personnel decisions and
"There is no plan B," said an executive at a Samsung
affiliate, who declined to be identified as he was not
authorised to speak publicly on the matter. "We believe the vice
chairman will be proven innocent, and if he walks free after the
first trial there's no reason to talk about alternatives."
Samsung Group has disbanded its corporate strategy office,
the conglomerate's nerve centre controlled by Lee and his
lieutenant Choi Gee-sung, who is also a defendant in the case.
It has also been moving in the past year to give more power over
decisions to the boards of its affiliates such as Samsung
THREE MEETINGS A DAY
In the recent past, some top South Korean businessmen who
have been in custody while on trial have used the lenient
visitation regime to the full.
For example, Justice Department data obtained and then
released by an opposition party lawmaker shows that Chey
Tae-won, the head of chemicals to telecoms and semiconductors
conglomerate SK Group, had 171 "special" meetings with
non-attorney visitors, when he was detained between February
2013 and July 2014.
Chey also had 1,607 meetings with his lawyers during that
time, or three times a day on average, and the regularity of the
meetings allowed him to review and comment on major decisions
for the conglomerate while being detained, according to people
familiar with the matter.
While Lee won’t have access to a computer in his 6.56 square
meter (71 square foot) cell, he can view documents during those
meetings with his lawyers and Samsung executives. Lee is not
allowed to take documents back to his cell.
He can also make phone calls with permission of the warden,
but calls can be recorded or listened to by the authorities,
according to South Korean correctional rules.
Lee may remain at the detention centre until at least
September should the case end up in the Supreme Court and he
does not seek bail. Samsung said Lee has not decided yet whether
to seek bail.
Despite the access to attorneys and executives, it isn't
easy for business leaders to participate fully in company
affairs once they are in jail, according to those who have had
previous experience of such dealings.
"In jail, it's difficult to communicate smoothly. So we
couldn't do much of the big things, especially M&As," said one
person with direct knowledge of a chaebol leader's
incarceration. "Operating a conglomerate from within a jail is
difficult. It's not like they have a computer, they can't
receive things with ease."
(Reporting by Jane Chung, Joyce Lee and Se Young Lee;
Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing By