(Associated Press via NewsEdge) Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee said he was stepping down after 20 years as chief of South Korea's biggest conglomerate in the aftermath of his indictment on tax evasion and other charges.
The move, announced to reporters by Lee himself, was both welcomed as a possible sign of more openness at the troubled business group, but also as a cause for worry that Lee's absence may harm South Korea's economy.
The 66-year-old Lee, with about 30 Samsung executives standing nearby, apologized for 'troubles to the nation' over an independent counsel investigation into the conglomerate's operations that resulted in the indictment of himself and other Samsung executives last week.
Until recent weeks, South Koreans were unaccustomed to hearing much publicly from Lee, who has been described as a loner with a fascination for gadgets and how they work.
During the independent counsel investigation, however, Lee spoke to reporters after undergoing hours of questioning twice in a week, and even hinted he might resign.
Lee took over the reins of Samsung two decades ago following the death of his father, the conglomerate's founder. He is one of South Korea's richest people, is widely regarded as its most influential business executive and serves on the International Olympic Committee.
Samsung Group has interests in dozens of businesses including electronics, shipbuilding and construction. Its companies account for up to 20% of South Korea's exports, by some estimates.
Samsung Electronics, its flagship corporation, is a world leader in computer chips, flat-screen TVs and mobile phones. Lee is widely seen as the driving force behind its rise into a global technology force.
Special prosecutors Thursday indicted Lee on charges of evading 112.8 billion won ($113 million) in taxes, ending a three-month probe in the family-run conglomerate prompted by allegations of wrongdoing by a former Samsung lawyer.
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