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Speculation Abounds Over Samsung Leadership After Lee Is Arrested

The arrest of Samsung vice chairman Jay Y. Lee on bribery charges is creating much speculation about the company’s next steps.

With the South Korean government in disarray after the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, the country’s largest business conglomerate faces a leadership void, which for the time being will be filled by long-time Lee lieutenant and former Samsung Electronics America CEO Choi Gee-Sung, according to reports out of Korea.

Choi, who runs Samsung’s strategy group, is also under investigation by special prosecutors for any possible role in the presidential bribery scandal. In the ongoing investigation, prosecutors accuse Samsung of paying bribes of almost $38 million to organizations linked to the president and an associate to secure government backing of a controversial merger.

Choi and his current deputy, Chang Choong-ki, have been questioned by prosecutors over their role in the deal.

“It’s not like Samsung businesses will grind to a halt,” said Kim Yong-serk, a former Samsung Electronics executive who is now a professor at Sungkyunkwan University. “There are many smart people at the company,” he told a Reuters reporter.

Choi is known for leading Samsung’s efforts in the battle for smartphone share. In 2012, thanks to Choi’s leadership as CEO, Samsung surpassed Nokia and then ultimately, Apple, for the title of world’s largest smartphone maker.

Over the span of three decades, Choi, 66, worked in all of Samsung’s core business units before taking over as chief executive. He has since served as a mentor to Lee and helped prepare him to succeed his father, Lee Kun-hee, who suffered a heart attack in 2014.

Samsung has yet to comment publicly on the investigation or the leadership transition.