According to local news agency Yonhap News, the Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant after prosecutors levelled additional charges against Lee, including hiding criminal proceeds and violating a law on transferring assets abroad, in a second attempt to secure his arrest. An initial request a few weeks ago had been turned down.
Prosecutors allege that Lee bribed Choi Soon-sil, an associate of the president, to secure government backing for a merger between two of the consumer electronics giant’s affiliate companies.
Lee has effectively been head of the company since his father Lee Kun Hee was hospitalised in 2014.
Samsung strategy chief Choi Gee-sung, seen as a mentor to Lee since his father’s incapacitation, is now expected to take a leading role while the investigation continues.
The court rejected a separate request for a warrant against Samsung president Park Sang-jin.
Park was impeached by the Korean national assembly at the end of last year. The country’s constitutional court is currently considering whether to confirm her removal.
The arrest could have an onward impact on Samsung’s organisation. In addition to the controversial merger – seen as a move to consolidate the control of the Lee family – there is speculation that moves to split the company into a holding unit and an operating unit could be put on hold.