SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A special probe approved late last year into corruption allegations at South Korea's Samsung Group began Thursday, according to news reports, with the lawyer in charge saying investigators face challenges in carrying out their assignment.
''Too many allegations are involved in the investigation, so I don't expect to get all of them clarified within the given time,'' said Cho Joon-woong, a former senior prosecutor, Yonhap news agency reported. ''But we will do our best to get as much done as possible.''
Cho has up to 105 days to carry out the investigation, Yonhap said.
Lawyers on his team could not be reached for comment. Yim Jun-seok, a Samsung spokesman, said he could not confirm the probe had started, but vowed cooperation.
''We will cooperate with the investigation,'' he said.
Kim Yong-chul, a former top legal affairs official at Samsung, alleged last year that Samsung, South Korea's biggest conglomerate, set up a US$215 million (euro147 million) slush fund to bribe influential figures such as prosecutors, judges and government officials.
Samsung denies the allegations.
Kim's claims spurred the National Assembly to pass legislation to enable the probe. President Roh Moo-hyun approved the bill last month.
Cho was also to investigate opposition claims that Roh received Samsung money before and after the 2002 presidential election.
Roh had criticized the legislature's passage of the bill but ultimately signed it.
Kim, a former prosecutor, said Samsung used Samsung Corp. — its trading arm — to create the pool of money through intricate contracts with other group affiliates and that family members of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee used some of the money to buy expensive art work.
''The independent counsel needs to be fully ready to question anyone in a position of power, and that includes Lee,'' the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial Thursday.
Huge South Korean industrial groups such as Samsung are not new to scandals. The so-called chaebol conglomerates have regularly been accused of wielding their economic might to influence government decisions, and of using dubious dealings between subsidiaries to help controlling families evade taxes and transfer wealth to heirs.
Samsung Group includes Samsung Electronics Co.