Prosecutors on Monday requested a court warrant to arrest former President Lee Myung-bak over 12 counts of corruption charges including bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Lee, president from 2008-2013, is suspected of taking about 11 billion won (US$10.3 million) in bribes from the state intelligence agency, businesses and others.
The 77-year-old is believed to be the real owner of DAS, an auto parts maker at the center of the scandal, through which he allegedly created 35 billion won in slush funds. On paper, the company belongs to his elder brother, Lee Sang-eun.
He is suspected of exerting power through government agencies to help a DAS lawsuit in the U.S. which was filed to recoup the company‘s investment, and of moving classified state documents to DAS’ warehouse.
Lee will likely be arraigned as early as Wednesday and the court is expected to make a decision that night or early Thursday.
If the warrant is issued, he will become the country‘s fourth former president to be arrested on criminal charges.
Prosecutors questioned Lee for 21 hours on Wednesday and Thursday.
The chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office reported the results of the investigation to Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il on Friday.
The prosecution said the decision to seek an arrest warrant was made because of the gravity of the allegations concerning Lee and the risk of him destroying evidence.
“We explained the unavoidable need for his arrest, and also that there is a great risk of him destroying evidence since he has denied even basic facts related to the allegations,” a prosecution official told reporters.
Prosecutors have been looking into fresh suspicions that Lee received about 200 million won in bribes ahead of the 2007 presidential election from a Buddhist monk seeking Lee‘s influence in establishing a Buddhist university.
Prosecutors had reportedly been pitching strongly for an arrest warrant in light of the seriousness of the case and concerns that Lee could attempt to destroy evidence or manipulate witnesses, as he denies most of the charges.
The chief prosecutor was said to be taking into consideration opposing views that Lee’s arrest wouldn‘t make a big difference and that it would be enough to indict him without physical detention because prosecutors have secured enough evidence.
The office of Lee’s aide released a statement later and refused to accept the prosecution‘s move.
“(The ex-president’s office) cannot accept the charges overlaid by the state prosecutors.”
The office also said Lee will “fight with full-fledged effort to get the truth out at court.” It said the request of his arrest warrant had been predicted, given the progress of what it described as “a state-led political scheme to kill Lee Myung-bak since the day the Moon Jae-in government assumed office.”
Lee has denounced the investigation as political retaliation by the administration of President Moon Jae-in over the death of late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh killed himself in 2009 when Lee was in office amid a corruption investigation that forced him to appear for questioning, a humiliation that many believe led to the suicide.
Lee‘s associates have claimed that the government of President Moon, a key Roh ally who served as Roh’s chief of staff, is trying to force the same humiliation back on Lee. Prosecutors and presidential officials flatly reject such claims.
Meanwhile, prosecutors are looking into whether to call in Lee‘s wife, Kim Yoon-ok, for questioning about suspicions that she took close to 1 billion won in illicit money from the state intelligence agency and others.
She also faces suspicion she received an Hermes bag containing$30,000 from a U.S.-based Korean businesswoman months before the 2007 presidential election.
When local media became aware of the issue later that year close to the election, Lee’s camp allegedly sought help from another Korean-American woman to handle the press here and the Korean community in the U.S. by paying her hush money and promising her business favors in return. (Yonhap)