What’s Next for Samsung as Executives Face Criminal Charges?

Five Samsung executives, including the company's 48-year-old billionaire heir, will stand trial in the coming months on bribery, embezzlement and other charges linked to a massive scandal that toppled South Korea's president.

Before being arrested earlier this month, Lee Jae-yong, the third generation of the Samsung founding family, was seen as bringing a string of changes to South Korea's largest business group, such as increasing shareholder returns. The criminal charges can put the Samsung scion, his former mentor and three other Samsung executives behind bars for several years if they are found guilty.

What you need to know and what we can expect next:

Why Samsung?

Even though Samsung is one of dozens of South Korean business groups that have donated funds to entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a longtime confidante of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the special prosecution team investigating the scandal focused on Samsung. This was in part because the investigation period was limited to 70 days. It was also due partly to the fact that Samsung's donation was the largest and Samsung was the only family-controlled business group to separately have signed a multimillion-dollar contract with Choi's company in Germany that bankrolled equestrian training for her daughter.

Prosecutors believe that during Samsung heir Lee's three private meetings with Park from 2014 to 2016, the president asked Lee to support Choi's various entities in exchange for giving the government's support for a smooth company leadership transition, an allegation denied by Samsung.

Samsung also takes a special place in South Korea, where citizens sometimes call the nation the "Republic of Samsung" due to its widespread influence in everything from exports and jobs to health care, academics and more. Samsung's nearly 60 affiliated companies account for a third of South Korean stock market capitalization.

Reforms, Again

Shortly after prosecutors announced that five Samsung executives would stand trial,...

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