SEOUL, June 26 (UPI) -- A panel of legal experts and journalists Friday urged prosecutors not to indict Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who has been the subject of a 20-month probe on fraud allegations.
After several hours of the discussion, a majority of the 14-member panel voted in favor of asking the prosecution not to indict Lee, according to the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office.
The prosecution is not legally bound to the suggestion, but it has followed the proposal of the expert panel after the system was introduced in 2018.
Since late 2018, prosecutors have investigated allegations that the Samsung heir had increased his control over the group through a controversial merger between two Samsung units of Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T in 2015.
The only son of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee was accused of having unlawfully inflated Cheil's value to jack up his stake in the newly merged company.
Before the amalgamation, Lee was Cheil's largest shareholder, with a stake of 23.2 percent, while he had no stake in Samsung C&T.
In addition, Cheil's subsidiary Samsung BioLogics changed its accounting method before the merger to turn a profit, which also helped raise Cheil's value.
Prosecutors have claimed that Lee and his top lieutenants artificially increased the value of Cheil to offer profitable returns for Lee in the form of a higher stake in the new firm.
In response, Lee, who is already a de facto Samsung leader in place of his bedridden father, denied all the charges.
Questioning the validity of the criminal investigation into Lee, the panel composed of outside experts sided with the billionaire businessman.
The decision is expected to deal a blow to the prosecution even if it goes ahead with the indictment.
The panel has a pool of hundreds of professors, journalists, and legal professionals. Last week, 15 members were randomly selected to delve into the case involving the 51-year-old Samsung tycoon.
As one member failed to take part in the discussion, the remaining 14 members came up with the decision siding with Lee.