Ex-South Korean president Lee Myung Bak denounces graft probe as 'revenge'

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks during a press conference at his office in Seoul on Jan 17, 2018.
Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks during a press conference at his office in Seoul on Jan 17, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (AFP) - Former South Korean president Lee Myung Bak on Wednesday (Jan 17) denounced as "political revenge" a corruption probe into allegations his office accepted bribes from the country's spy agency.

The rare statement from the conservative Mr Lee, who stepped down in 2013, came after two of his closest aides were arrested and as his impeached ally and successor Park Geun Hye stands trial for corruption.

South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison - or meet untimely ends - after their time in office and the prosecutors' noose is reportedly closing in on Mr Lee.

Kim Paik Joon, who was Mr Lee's senior secretary for administrative affairs in Seoul's Blue House and often dubbed his "butler", was arrested early on Wednesday.

He is accused of receiving more than 400 million won (S$496,000) from the National Intelligence Service between 2008 and 2012.

Another former presidential secretary to Mr Lee, Kim Jin Mo, was arrested late on Tuesday on charges of taking about 50 million won from the agency.

"The recent prosecutors' investigation... is clearly aimed at me," Mr Lee said in a statement.

"I feel saddened that the country is being shaken to its foundation by recent attempts to roll back history and mount a political revenge," he added.

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.

Former liberal president Roh Moo Hyun committed suicide in 2009 - during Mr Lee's term - after being questioned for alleged corruption.

Mr Moon was the chief of Roh's presidential secretariat and Mr Lee said: "Many people believe the prosecutors' investigation... is a politically motivated move aimed at destroying conservatives and a political revenge for the death of president Roh Moo Hyun."

Large construction projects and overseas resources development contracts made during his term have been repeatedly scrutinised but no irregularities found, he added.

Prosecutors this month added two new charges - bribery and embezzlement - to Park's 18-count corruption and abuse of power indictment, accusing her of accepting 3.65 billion won from the spy agency while she was in office.