S Korea’s first lady to be grilled in land-deal probe

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:19pm

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s wife is to be questioned as part of a probe into a presidential retirement home deal that has already grilled Lee’s brother and son, officials said on Monday.

The inclusion of First Lady Kim Yoon-ok in the investigation comes at a sensitive time, with South Korea just weeks away from a presidential election on December 19.

“(We have) decided to investigate first lady Kim,” assistant special counsel Lee Chang-hoon told reporters on Monday.

“The method and the timing of the questioning are still being discussed with the presidential office,” Lee said.

The probe is focused on alleged irregularities in the purchase of a plot of land on the southern edge of Seoul to build a retirement home for President Lee when he formally leaves office in January.

The lot was jointly purchased by the president’s son, Lee Si-hyung, and the presidential security service that would need to house its agents on the site.

But the cost was allegedly not split evenly, with suggestions that the security service paid too high a price for its share, while Lee’s son got a below-market rate for the residential plot.

The president’s wife and brother have been included in the investigation because of reports that they each loaned Lee Si-hyung 600 million won (US$542,000) to buy the lot.

The presidential Blue House has denied opposition claims of financial chicanery.

But in the face of mounting criticism, the president scrapped the whole project and decided to move into his existing private house in southern Seoul after leaving office.

The first lady is scheduled to accompany the president on a five-day official visit to Indonesia and Thailand from Wednesday.