South Korean ex-president headed for jail after losing final appeal in graft case

Members of the Presidential Security Service stand in front of former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's residence in Seoul, on Oct 29, 2020.
Members of the Presidential Security Service stand in front of former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's residence in Seoul, on Oct 29, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak faces spending much of his remaining years in prison, after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's corruption conviction against the conservative ex-leader.

Lee, 78, planned to surrender to prosecutors by next Monday (Nov 2), his lawyer said on Thursday, after South Korea's highest court denied his final appeal against his conviction on embezzlement and bribery charges.

The former president has been free since February, when he filed to overturn a 13 billion won (S$15 million) fine and 17-year prison sentence, which could keep him behind bars into his 90s.

Lee's term from 2008 to 2013 was marked by mass protests and renewed tensions with North Korea and his downfall under a cloud of corruption charges continues a pattern for South Korean leaders.

He is the third freely elected former president to be jailed on graft charges, with his arrest following the impeachment, removal and prosecution of his successor, Park Geun-hye.

The cases helped fuel a resurgence of the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea under President Moon Jae-in, who has nonetheless found his own administration dogged by a series of scandals.

The conservative bloc has rebranded itself as the People Power Party in an effort to capitalise on continued discontent over issues including housing costs and the country's wealth gap.

Lee was charged in 2018 on 16 charges related to automobile parts company DAS. The court concluded that Lee used the company to embezzle 25.2 billion won of money while accepting bribes totaling 9.4 billion won.

Lee's lawyer told reporters on Thursday that the former president was scheduled to receive a medical examination on Friday and would report to prosecutors on Monday.