SEOUL (AFP) — An independent team investigating bribery allegations against South Korea's Samsung group has searched the house and private office of its chairman Lee Kun-Hee, Yonhap news agency reported.
Houses of senior executives were also searched, the agency said. A Samsung spokesman refused to comment.
The probe launched last week by an independent counsel follows claims by Samsung's former chief lawyer that it created a multi-million-dollar slush fund to bribe prosecutors, government officials and journalists.
Samsung, which wields enormous influence in South Korea, has denied the claims and said it was concerned the probe was hurting its reputation.
The group's assets are valued at 280.8 billion dollars and its exports were worth 66.3 billion dollars last year, more than 20 percent of the nation's total.
Investigators searched Lee's house, which doubles as his private office, early Monday, Yonhap quoted sources as saying.
The sources said prosecutors also raided the houses of vice chairman Lee Hak-Soo and two other senior executives. The chairman and the executives are currently banned from leaving the country.
The probe, which can last up to 105 days, is seen as a test of South Korea's determination to crack down on allegedly shady business practices by family-controlled conglomerates.
The groups known as chaebol spearheaded the nation's dramatic rise from postwar poverty to prosperity. But their reckless expansion was partly blamed for triggering the financial crisis of 1997.
Top conglomerates have often been accused of cosy ties to politicians and of a lack of transparency.
Legislators from all parties voted in November to set up the independent inquiry despite objections from the government, which said this would tarnish Samsung and the country.
Apart from the slush fund claims, the bill calls for an investigation into illegal funds provided during and after the last presidential election in 2002.
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