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South Korea

South Korean prosecutors seek arrest of former president Lee Myung-bak

Former leader has been accused of accepting billions of won in bribes during his five years in power, but he denies most of the accusations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 9:05pm

South Korean prosecutors have requested an arrest warrant for ex-president Lee Myung-bak over allegations of bribery, embezzlement and other charges, officials said on Monday.

Lee, a conservative who governed from 2008 to 2013, is the latest South Korean leader to be entangled in scandals or other problems after leaving office.

Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, was removed from office and jailed last year in a separate corruption scandal. Prosecutors last month demanded a 30-year prison term for Park, the country’s first female president.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it has asked a court to approve Lee’s arrest.

“Each accusation he faces is a significant offence that requires formal arrest,” Yonhap and multiple other media quoted an unidentified senior prosecutor as saying. “We believe that there is a high risk of possible destruction of evidence [if Lee is not taken under custody].”

South Korean media say Seoul Central District Court is likely to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant by Wednesday night at the earliest.

Prosecutors accuse Lee of taking a total of 11 billion won (US$10 million) in bribes from his own intelligence agency, business groups and a former lawmaker.

Prosecutors also claim Lee used a car parts manufacturer as a channel to establish illicit slush funds worth 30 billion won (US$28 million). He is suspected of using his presidential power to favour auto parts maker DAS, which he effectively owns.

He has denied wrongdoing on nearly all of the roughly 20 illegal acts he is accused of.

But last week, Lee admitted receiving US$100,000 from the state spy agency while still in office after he faced a marathon interrogation by prosecutors over corruption allegations.

Lee has called the allegations political revenge by the current government of liberal President Moon Jae-in.

Lee referred to the 2009 suicide of liberal ex-president Roh Moo-hyun, who jumped to his death during a corruption investigation involving his family when Lee was president.

Moon, who was Roh’s chief of staff, previously called the investigation of Roh by the Lee government politically motivated.

Almost all South Korean presidents, their family members and key associates have either been arrested or embroiled in corruption scandals and other troubles before they ended their terms or after they left office.

Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, former army generals who served through the 1980s to early 1990s, served jail terms in the 1990s for corruption and treason after leaving office.

Both Chun and Roh received presidential pardons after serving about two years.

Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, another former army general who ruled with an iron fist in the 1970s and 1980s, was assassinated by his spy chief during a drinking party.

Lee, a former Hyundai executive who led the company’s meteoric rise and built a reputation as a man who can get things done, took office with a promise to boost the economy and take a harder line toward North Korea.

But his five-year term was dominated by rising animosity with North Korea, massive public protests against imports of US beef and an economy hit by the global financial meltdown.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Kyodo