Prosecutors have questioned SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won on bribery allegations as part of the investigation of the corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.
Chey left the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office Sunday at around 3:30 a.m. after 13 hours of questioning over 11.1 billion won ($9.8 million) SK gave to the Mir and K-Sports foundations controlled by Park's close friend Choi Soon-sil.
Prosecutors suspect that SK, the third-largest donor to the foundations after Samsung and Hyundai Motor, gave the money in return for a presidential pardon for the imprisoned Chey and winning a license to operate a duty free store.
Chey, who had been sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and other financial crimes, was released on Aug. 15, 2015, after two years and seven months in prison. He was the only high-profile businessman among 6,527 granted pardons that day.
During questioning, Chey denied the allegations.
But prosecutors are suspicious about the timing of the donation. Kim Chang-geun, who led SK while Chey was in prison, approved the donation shortly after a private meeting with Park on July 24, 2015.
Also, in a mobile message to former presidential secretary An Chong-bum on Aug. 13 that year, Kim said, "We will never forget your great kindness for granting a pardon to Chairman Chey. I offer you my heartfelt thanks on behalf of all SK family members."
An, a key figure in the scandal, has already been indicted on charges of receiving bribes and mishandling of state secrets.
According to the special investigation team led by independent counsel Park Young-soo, SK Vice Chairman Kim Young-tae also visited Chey a few days before the pardon and told him things that implied a "backdoor deal" between Park and the company.
In addition, SK is suspected of receiving favors from the government in winning a license to operate a duty free store. Last year, the government eased requirements for companies seeking the licenses and allocated four new ones, sparking suspicions the measure favored certain companies.
Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin may also soon be summoned for questioning over similar allegations. The company gave 4.5 billion won to the shady foundations.
The prosecution's next target is expected to be CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, who was granted a special pardon on Aug. 15, 2016. CJ gave 1.3 billion won to the foundations.
The company also reportedly donated facilities worth 5.2 billion won for a government project in December 2015.
By investigating the companies, prosecutors are trying to build a stronger case against Park, who is scheduled to be summoned for questioning on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have accused of Park and Choi of conspiring to collect money from the nation's biggest companies ― either through "deals" or pressure. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong has already been indicted on bribery and other charges and was imprisoned last month.