A court in South Korea has refused a request by prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong.
The judge ruled early on Thursday that there was insufficient reason to arrest Mr Lee over accusations of bribery, embezzlement and perjury.
Mr Lee had been waiting for the ruling overnight since a hearing on Wednesday. The allegations were part of a corruption scandal which led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye. Samsung, which has consistently denied any wrongdoing, said in a statement that the “merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention”.
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President Park is accused of abusing her position by colluding with a close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to use their relationship to secure millions of dollars from major companies. The money was allegedly paid into Ms Choi’s non-profit foundations in exchange for favourable government treatment.
Prosecutors allege that Samsung paid 43bn won ($36.3m; £29.8m) to secure government support for a controversial merger of two of its affiliates. Samsung has acknowledged making the payments but insists it did not expect anything in return.
South Korea’s special prosecutors had declared Mr Lee a criminal suspect and made a formal request for an arrest warrant earlier this week. But the judge ruled that after reviewing the evidence it was “difficult to acknowledge the necessity and substantiality of an arrest at the current stage”.
Opposition MPs said the decision was “regrettable” and ignored the strength of public sentiment.
Correspondents say prosecutors’ hopes of stretching criminal proceedings to include the president may have been knocked off course by the refusal to issue a warrant against Mr Lee.
Samsung is South Korea’s most high-profile company, and its sales are equal to about a fifth of the country’s GDP.
Mr Lee is currently vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics but since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is considered de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.
Ms Park, who has faced massive public protest in recent months, has been stripped of her presidential powers while the constitutional court considers her impeachment.