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Arrested ex-President once again rejects questioning

 Former President Lee Myung-bak, who was taken into custody last week on multiple corruption charges, once again refused to be questioned by the prosecution Wednesday, claiming he does not believe a fair probe will be carried out under the current government.

Lee, whose charges include bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion, among others, has insisted that the ongoing investigation is “political revenge” mounted by the current administration in office, headed by liberal President Moon Jae-in.

Lee was initially expected to attend a first round of questioning Monday, at the detention center where he is currently being held. Through his lawyer, however, Lee said on Monday that he wouldn’t be attending any questioning, and that he has informed the prosecution of his decision.

Former President Lee Myung-bak boards a vehicle as he was taken into custody on Friday. (Yonhap)
Former President Lee Myung-bak boards a vehicle as he was taken into custody on Friday. (Yonhap)

His lawyer, Kang Hoon, said one of the reasons why the ex-president won’t go through the questioning has to do with the prosecution being “inconsiderate” of Lee’s situation.

Before being taken into custody, Lee expressed hopes that his arrest would “ease the burden” on his family and associates. Lawyer Kang said in spite of Lee’s concerns, the prosecution has continued investigating Lee’s former aides and family members regardless, while sharing the alleged charges with the media.

A number of Lee’s former aides have already been taken into custody, including Lee Byung-mo, the executive secretary of the Cheonggye Foundation. He is known to have long worked for the former president, mostly taking care of his assets and property.

Lee Byung-mo, who is suspected of embezzling funds from a subsidiary and partner firm of DAS, an auto parts maker of which prosecutors believe the former president is the real owner, attended his first preparatory proceeding Wednesday.

During the session, the former aide of the ex-President said it is unfair that he was taken into custody. While admitting he did destroy ledgers that had records of illicit financial transactions, he claimed he did so without knowing what kind of information the documents contained.

The prosecution also may summon Kim Yoon-ok, the wife of the former president, for questioning this week. She is suspected of receiving a bribe from former Woori Financial CEO Lee Pal-seung during her husband’s term in office, 2008- 2013, among other charges.

It was Kim’s son-in-law, Lee Sang-joo, a senior executive at Samsung Electronics, who told prosecutors prior to the former president’s arrest that he received 1.45 billion won ($1.36 million) from the former Woori chief and passed on part of the money to his mother-in-law.

The ex-president is also alleged to have received 2.25 billion won from the former Woori CEO for giving him the top position at the financial institution, which was a state-run lender at the time.

In the past, Kwon Yang-sook, the widow of late former president Roh Moo-hyun, had been summoned for questioning over allegations she asked for and received a bribe from a businessman during her husband’s presidential term, 2003-2008.

The probe against her abruptly ended as her husband took his own life while also being investigated on bribery and corruption allegations at the time. Many blamed then President Lee Myung-bak for his administration’s “politically motivated” investigation that they said was responsible for Roh’s suicide.

Lee is not the first ex-president who has refused to attend questioning or trials. Former President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached last year in a dramatic corruption scandal, has maintained her innocence while facing 18 charges including abuse of power and bribery.

She has refused to attend her hearings and did not to appear in court when prosecutors requested a 30 years in prison for her in February. Like ex-President Lee, Park has claimed she is a victim of “political revenge.”

By Claire Lee (