Samsung chief Lee Jae-Yong on trial for bribery

Mr Lee was not present at the preliminary hearing, but his lawyer denied all charges on his behalf, reports The BBC.

The case is linked to a massive scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye.

Four other Samsung executives who are also facing trial have also denied wrongdoing.

The trial is expected to go on for several months.

Mr Lee, also known as Jay Y Lee, is currently vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics. But since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is considered de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.

He is accused of giving donations worth 41bn won ($36m;£29m) non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Ms Park.

Prosecutors have alleged this was done to win government support for a big restructuring of Samsung that would help a smooth leadership transition in favour of Mr Lee.

In a December parliamentary hearing, Samsung admitted giving a total of 20.4bn won to two foundations, but denied seeking favours in return.

Mr Lee also confirmed the firm gave a horse and money to help the equestrian career of Ms Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, something he said he now regrets.