One month ago, an arrest warrant was issued for Lee Jae-yong, the de facto chairman of the entire Samsung conglomerate. The warrant later was nullified when challenged in court by Samsung, but a new warrant issued today has stuck: Mr. Lee was arrested in Seoul and charged with bribery. The entire scandal revolves around an ongoing political crisis involving the country's president. Lee is accused of paying bribes to organizations run by President Park's personal advisor, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for political favors. But the details of the larger scandal are rather tedious, so I'll leave the BBC's excellent summary for you to peruse here.
The reason the arrest of Mr. Lee is quite so important is that he is among the very highest ranks of the elite in South Korea, controlling the country's largest conglomerate, and is widely seen as royalty in Korea's large family owned businesses also known as chaebol. Samsung sits atop these companies, and Mr. Lee is a direct heir and grandson of the founder of Samsung, Lee Byung-chul. Dynastic inheritance of the family business is a major theme in South Korean corporations, as is the constant specter of scandal.
While unlikely to hurt Samsung's future substantially, Mr. Lee's arrest may mark a turning point for tolerance of corporate corruption and, more specifically, collusion between the country's lifeblood - conglomerates like Samsung - and its young democratic government. Make no mistake, someone in as high a place as Mr. Lee being charged with bribery is a very big deal in Korea. Given the public's outrage there over President Park's ongoing scandal, a justice system struggling to assert itself substantively against the embattled president may well find a stand-in in Mr. Lee.