Samsung boss goes on trial on drugs charges

SEOUL (AFP) - The de-facto leader of the sprawling Samsung group Lee Jae-yong went on trial Tuesday on charges of illegally using the anaesthetic propofol, the latest legal travail to beset the multi-billionaire.

Lee -- the vice-chairman of the world s biggest smartphone maker Samsung Electronics and according to Forbes the world s 297th richest person -- is accused of having repeatedly taken it at a plastic surgery clinic in Seoul in 2017 and 2018.

Propofol is normally a medical anaesthetic but is also sometimes used recreationally, and an overdose of the drug was given as the cause of pop star Michael Jackson s death in 2009.

Usage is normally seen as a minor offence in the South and prosecutors originally proposed fining him 50 million won ($42,000) under a summary indictment, a procedure where less serious cases do not go to court.

But the court overruled the prosecution and ordered a trial.

Wearing a dark grey business suit and a facemask, Lee remained tight-lipped as he entered the Seoul Central District Court, skipping questions from reporters.

In court, prosecutors demanded a larger fine of 70 million won, Yonhap news agency reported.

Lee s lawyers maintain the substance was administered for medical reasons.

"It was prescribed in accordance with medical procedure by a doctor during Lee s treatment," they said in a statement.

Samsung Electronics declined to comment.

The firm is the flagship subsidiary of the giant Samsung group, by far the largest of the family-controlled empires known as chaebols that dominate business in South Korea, the world s 12th largest economy.

Lee became the conglomerate s de facto leader following the death of his father last year.

Two months ago he was released early from a two and a half year prison term for bribery, embezzlement and other offences in connection with the corruption scandal that brought down ex-South Korean president Park Geun-hye.

The early release was seen as the latest example of South Korea freeing on economic grounds business leaders imprisoned for corruption or tax evasion.

Samsung Electronics subsequently announced a giant $205-billion investment plan, three-quarters of it planned for the South.

But Lee remains on trial on separate accusations of manipulating a takeover to smooth his succession at the top of the Samsung group -- the same controversy over which he was said to have sought help from Park.