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Special prosecutors question Samsung chief for 11 hours as probe into alleged corruption peaks

Special prosecutors question Samsung chief for 11 hours as probe into alleged corruption peaks

Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee said Saturday he must take responsibility for a bribery and slush fund scandal at South Korea's biggest business empire, as an independent counsel probe reached a climax with his questioning.
The 66-year-old Lee, who has run Samsung for two decades, emerged early Saturday after nearly 11 hours under interrogation by special prosecutors examining the claims raised last year by a former Samsung lawyer.
"This is all due to my carelessness," said Lee, surrounded by reporters. "I am responsible for everything and must take responsibility."
It was not clear, however, if the remarks amounted to any admission of wrongdoing. Upon arrival Friday afternoon for questioning, Lee said he had nothing to do with ordering the alleged slush fund and bribes.
South Korea has been absorbed by the scandal since Kim Yong-chul, the conglomerate's former top lawyer, claimed in November that Samsung had 200 billion won (US$200 million, euro127 million) in a slush fund and used it to regularly bribe prosecutors and judges.
Kim also alleged that Lee's wife, who heads a Samsung art museum, used some of the money to buy expensive paintings from abroad, including "Happy Tears," by the late pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
Samsung vociferously denied Kim's allegations when they were raised.
Lee's questioning, which came three months after the start of the probe in January, was widely seen as its climax, though investigators have until April 23 to collect evidence.
They questioned Lee's wife for more than six hours Wednesday. His son, an executive at Samsung Electronics Co., brother-in-law and senior Samsung Group officials have also endured hours of questioning.
Samsung Group _ with dozens of businesses including shipbuilding, construction, insurance and leisure _ stands atop South Korea's corporate world.
Lee, whose late father established the conglomerate 70 years ago, is credited with turning Samsung Electronics, its flagship enterprise, into a top global brand.
Samsung, however, has also been a magnet for criticism among South Koreans worried that it has too much power and influence in society.
Besides the slush fund, bribery and art claims, investigators are looking into long-simmering allegations of murky dealings involving the family-run group's complex ownership structure.
South Korean conglomerates, known as "chaebol," have long been accused of influence-peddling as well as dubious transactions between subsidiaries to help controlling families evade taxes and transfer wealth to heirs.
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Associated Press Writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.