Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Another ex-S. Korean leader questioned in corruption probe

Another ex-S. Korean leader questioned in corruption probe

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday appeared before state prosecutors for questioning over a string of corruption charges including bribery, becoming the latest South Korean leader to be investigated.

Before going inside the prosecution office, Lee read a brief statement to say sorry for worrying the people of South Korea.

Mr. Lee was expected to be questioned on allegations that he collected more than $10 million in illegal funds, including bribes, from various sources, like Samsung and the government's National Intelligence Service, when he was a presidential candidate and after he took office.

The ex-president rose to political power after a successful career as chief executive of Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co.

Lee has agreed for the interviews to be videotaped, which his successor Park Geun-hye, who is also on trial for corruption, refused a year ago.

South Korean politicians accused of misdoing often apologize for causing trouble while still denying wrongdoing.

Last month, Seoul prosecutors searched the offices of Samsung Electronics as part of the investigation, the prosecutors' office said. They are Kang Hoon, 64, a judge-turned-lawyer who also served as Lee's former presidential legal assistant, Pi Young-hyun, 48, and Kim Byung-cheol, 43.

Two other ex-presidents, Chun Dioo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were tried and convicted in the 1990s for bribery, treason and other charges for their involvement in a 1979 military coup and each spent two years in prison.

Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison, and they were eventually pardoned and released after serving about two years each.

In return for the legal fee offer, Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee is believed to have bought a presidential pardon in 2009 when the Samsung chairman, now in hospital, had got a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion.

Both Samsung and Lee have denied the allegations as groundless.

He allegedly pocketed 1.7 billion won of secret funds from the country's spy agency, received 400 million won in bribes from a lawmaker, and embezzled millions of dollars from DAS, an auto parts company he is said to own under the names of his relatives. Wednesday's summons comes after state prosecutors, over the past few months, questioned numerous figures around Lee including his son, nephew and brother, as well as presidential secretaries who worked with him during his term, from 2008 to 2013.

A senior prosecutor told journalists: "We will treat the former president with dignity but we will conduct a through and transparent probe".

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