The Samsung heir, Lee Jae-yong, has been formally arrested as part of a probe into the “Choi-gate” corruption and influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye as South Korea’s president.
“It is acknowledged that it is necessary to arrest [Lee] in light of a newly added criminal charge and new evidence,” a court spokesman said.
Lee – officially vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics but in effect the head of the whole conglomerate – is accused of paying nearly $40m in bribes to Park’s secret confidante to secure policy favours.
He was already being held at a detention centre after appearing in court on Thursday as judges deliberated whether to issue an arrest warrant.
Lee, the son of the Samsung group boss Lee Kun-hee, has been quizzed several times over his alleged role in the scandal that has rocked the nation.
The 48-year-old, described as a key suspect, narrowly avoided being formally arrested in January after the court ruled there was insufficient evidence.
But prosecutors on Tuesday made a second bid for his arrest, saying they had collected more evidence in recent weeks.
His arrest is likely to send shockwaves through the group, which is a major part of the South Korean economy and includes the world’s largest smartphone maker, Samsung Electronics.
It is already reeling from the debacle over the recall of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 device and reports have suggested it could face sanctions from overseas authorities if Lee is punished.
Lee’s father and grandfather repeatedly had close brushes with the law but were never jailed.