The heir apparent to the Samsung empire, Jay Y. Lee, was trying to push through a corporate merger seen as critical to his plans to succeed his father as chairman.
For months, key shareholders fought the move. Then, suddenly, the standoff broke as South Korea’s government-controlled pension fund, which held the shares to cast the deciding vote, endorsed Mr. Lee’s deal.
A week later, President Park Geun-hye invited Mr. Lee to her office and asked for Samsung’s help with a campaign to promote South Korean culture and sports. Within months, Samsung had donated $17.4 million to two foundations controlled by the president’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and $6.2 million for the training of Korean equestrians, including Ms. Choi’s daughter.
Those donations — and whether they were part of a quid pro quo — are now at the heart of the impeachment case against Ms. Park. The nation’s full Constitutional Court will begin formal hearings on Tuesday into the case, the biggest influence-peddling scandal in South Korea’s history.
The court has never before ousted a president, though seven of the last eight have left office tainted by allegations of corruption. Whatever the court decides, the Park scandal has already put recurring collusion between big business and government in South Korea under intense scrutiny and could reshape the nation’s flawed, young democracy.