SEOUL (AFP) – South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday (Mar 6) summoned conservative former president Lee Myung Bak for questioning as a criminal suspect in a bribery scandal, officials said, the country’s latest former head of state to be investigated.
The move means that all living former South Korean presidents have now either been convicted, charged, or embroiled in criminal inquiries.
“We need to investigate former president Lee to find the truth (in the scandal) in a transparent and effective manner,” Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed Seoul prosecutor as saying.
An official confirmed the move to AFP.
Allegations of corruption involving the 76-year-old’s relatives and aides during his 2008-2013 presidential term have mounted in recent weeks as prosecutors investigate multiple cases of bribery amounting to millions of dollars.
Two of the ex-president’s former aides have been arrested and the homes and offices of his brothers raided as the net closes in on him.
South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison – or meet untimely ends – after their time in power, usually once their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House.
Lee’s successor Park Geun Hye was ousted last year over a massive corruption scandal that emerged in 2016.
The verdict in her trial on charges of bribery and abuse of power is due next month, with prosecutors demanding 30 years in jail.
And Lee’s own predecessor, the liberal Roh Moo Hyun, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff after being questioned over corruption allegations in 2009.
Lee was told to present himself to prosecutors on Wednesday next week to be questioned as a “suspect”, Yonhap said.
The allegations include claims that the Samsung Group bought a presidential pardon in 2009 for its chairman Lee Kun Hee, who had been convicted of tax evasion and given a suspended jail sentence.
Samsung reportedly paid six billion won (US$5.6 million) in legal fees to a US law firm on the former president’s behalf.
Both Samsung and Lee have denied the allegations as groundless.
Lee has dismissed the investigation into him as “political revenge”.
“I feel saddened that the country is being shaken to its foundation by recent attempts to roll back history,” he said in a statement in January.
South Korea’s current left-leaning President Moon Jae In has vowed to “fix past wrongs” in the country’s governance, calling them “accumulated evils”.
Two other former conservative presidents, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, have previously been jailed for corruption and subversion related to their 1979 military coup and a bloody 1980 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Gwangju.
According to reports, Lee is also accused of accepting 2.2 billion won from former state-financed Woori Financial Group CEO Lee Pal Sung in return for helping him assume the post.
He has also 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 hundreds of thousands of won from a construction company as a kickback for awarding a government project.
In addition, Lee is said to be accused of embezzling millions of dollars from DAS, an auto parts company he allegedly owns under the names of his relatives.