Kim Kyung-soo, a spokesman for the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office, said that a probe had begun, without elaborating. The action followed the filing of a criminal lawsuit last week by two civic organizations against three top Samsung executives.
The suit came after Kim Yong-chul, a former top Samsung legal affairs official, claimed last week that Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee masterminded the paying of bribes to prosecutors, judges, government officials, lawmakers and journalists.
The Samsung Group, which includes Samsung Electronics Co., has strongly denied the allegations and last week released a 25-page statement rebutting the claims.
Samsung spokesman Yim Jun-seok said late Monday that the group would cooperate in the investigation.
Huge industrial groups such as Samsung, widely seen as the engines behind South Korea's rise from one of the world's poorest economies 50 years ago to the 12th largest today, have been no strangers to scandal, official investigation and legal censure.
The conglomerates, known as chaebol, have been accused of wielding influence as well as dubious dealings between subsidiaries to help controlling families evade taxes and transfer wealth to heirs.
Chung Mong-koo, the chairman of Hyundai Motor Co., was convicted earlier this year of embezzlement and breach of trust for raising a slush fund prosecutors said was used for bribery. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
The term, however, was suspended on appeal as the presiding judge ruled that Chung's role at the helm of the world's sixth-largest automaker was too important to South Korea's economy for him to be behind bars.
Earlier Monday, Kim, the former Samsung lawyer, claimed that two current prosecutors, including prosecutor-general appointee Lim Chai-jin, and one former one regularly took bribes from Samsung.
All of the prosecutors cited by Kim denied the allegations.
"To make Kim's claim credible, he should present documents showing when and from whom Lim has received what kinds of lobbying in detail," Lim's office said in a statement.
Lim, who was named by President Roh Moo-hyun last month to the top prosecution job, was to undergo a parliamentary hearing related to his appointment Tuesday.
Samsung on Monday again dismissed Kim's claims, issuing a statement that called "groundless" the list of prosecutors he claimed received bribes.
"It's nothing but a strange document in which he is making unilateral claims without any evidence," Samsung said.
Kim worked in various legal affairs positions for Samsung between 1997 and 2004. At a press conference last week he said he was responsible for arranging bribes in the legal field.
Kim, a former prosecutor himself, made the latest claim Monday through the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, known for its activities in support of South Korea's pro-democracy movement in the 1970s and 1980s.
The association read off the names of the prosecutors at a press conference. Kim did not attend.
"The immoral behavior by Samsung executives - who are repeating the tyranny and arrogance of past military dictatorships - are tormenting," the association said in a statement posted on its Web site.
Among past criticisms of the conglomerates was that they benefited from cozy ties with former military governments that channeled business opportunities to them in exchange for payoffs.
In 1996, Samsung's Lee was convicted along with seven other leading South Korean business executives of giving and arranging bribes to ex-South Korean President Roh Tae-woo, a former general.
Lee, a member of the International Olympic Committee, was handed a two-year suspended prison term.
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