South Korea MPs approve Samsung corruption probe

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SEOUL, Nov 23 (Reuters) South Korea's parliament voted on Friday to allow an independent counsel investigate the Samsung Group after a former top legal executive accused the country's largest conglomerate of bribing public officials.

Kim Yong-cheol, who said he wanted to blow the whistle on corruption, created a furore when he said earlier this month Samsung routinely bribed police and politicians to squash investigations concerning improper company management.

Samsung has vigorously denied the accusations.

''It is regretful that an independent counsel probe will take place when the business environment is in a difficult situation,'' Samsung said on Thursday when the bill won sub-committee approval.

The bill also authorises an investigation into whether Samsung made improper payments during campaigning for the 2002 presidential election. President Roh Moo-hyun won that election.

Roh, who has about three months left in office, is considering vetoing the bill, his office has said.

But parliament can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. It passed the bill for a special investigator by a vote of 155 in favour, 17 against and 17 abstaining.

Separately, prosecutors are putting together their own team of about 55 people that next week will start looking into the allegations Samsung kept a secret slush fund, an official said.

Samsung wields enormous power in South Korea by its sheer size.

The group, with 58 affiliates as of late June, had combined sales of 9 billion in 2006, about one-sixth of the country's gross domestic product for that year.

Several top executives from the country's family-owned conglomerates, known as ''chaebol,'' have been convicted of corruption over the years due to what critics say were cosy ties between politicians and business leaders.

REUTERS BJR GC1528

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