The prosecution on Wednesday indicted former President Lee Myung-bak on a series of charges involving tens of billions of won in embezzlement and bribery, making him the fourth Korean president to face criminal charges.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said they had indicted 76-year-old Lee on 16 charges, including violation of election law, tax evasion, abuse of power and leaking of government secrets.
The former president, who served from 2008 to 2013, became the fourth president indicted following former Presidents Park Geun-hye, Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-hwan. Park was sentenced to 24 years in prison and a fine, Friday.
Former President Lee Myung-bak (Yonhap)
Lee, who denies the charges, strongly criticized the prosecution, calling the indictment the result of an investigation “that followed a fabricated scenario.”
“I do not concede to the legitimacy of the prosecution, which became a puppet of the administration to conduct an unfair probe,” he said in a statement via Facebook, after the indictment was announced.
“I am deeply infuriated by the actions that appear to deny the proud history and legitimacy of South Korea. Please protect the country.”
At the end of the statement it was noted that it had been posted by an aide on behalf of the former president, as he has been in a pretrial detention center since his arrest on March 22. He previously underwent 21 hours of questioning by prosecutors on March 14.
Over controversial auto parts maker DAS, which belongs to Lee’s eldest brother Lee Sang-eun, the prosecution concluded the former president is the real owner and used it to amass slush funds totaling some 33.9 billion won ($31.7 million) from 1994 to 2006. Prosecutors said the money was used for political activities as well as private uses.
Prosecutors also viewed the $5.85 million in litigation fees that Samsung Electronics allegedly paid on behalf of DAS between 2007 and 2011 as a kickback to the former president in exchange for a special pardon of the business conglomerate‘s former chief Lee Kun-hee.
The former president is suspected of having received some 11 billion won in illegal funds from the state spy agency, individuals and businesses, including Samsung.
The prosecutors said President Lee had received some 2.25 billion won from Lee Pal-sung to be appointed chairman of Woori Finance Holdings, 500 million won from Daebo Group, the operator of rest areas on expressways, and 400 million won from former lawmaker Kim So-nam for the ruling party’s nomination in the 2008 parliamentary election.
The prosecution also accused President Lee of receiving 700 million won from the National Intelligence Service’s audit-free “special activities” fund from March 2008 to September or October 2011.
Under the Act on Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes, receiving bribes of 100 million won or more is subject to at least 10 years in jail. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
The prosecution will also request to freeze Lee’s assets, as it is expected to try to claw back the 11 billion won in kickbacks.
Other charges that Lee faces include illegally removing 3,402 presidential records in 2013 and hiding them in his Yeongpo Building in Seoul.
Prosecutors are expected to operate a team to continue looking into the case in order to press additional charges against Lee. They also plan to indict family members including his wife Kim Yun-ok, elder brother Lee Sang-deuk, son Lee Si-hyung and other related figures.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com