South Korean prosecutors seek arrest of ex-president Lee Myung Bak

Former South Korean president Lee Myung Bak (centre) leaves the prosecutors' office in Seoul, on March 15, 2018.
Former South Korean president Lee Myung Bak (centre) leaves the prosecutors' office in Seoul, on March 15, 2018.PHOTO: AFP/YONHAP

SEOUL (AFP) - Seoul prosecutors said on Monday (March 19) that they are seeking the arrest of former President Lee Myung Bak over corruption allegations, on the grounds he might destroy evidence if not detained.

Lee, the latest of several ex-leaders to be embroiled in a criminal inquiry, is being investigated for multiple cases of bribery amounting to millions of dollars.

The 76-year-old, who served from 2008 to 2013, faced a marathon interrogation by prosecutors last week, during which he denied most of the accusations he faced.

The Seoul prosecutors’ office investigating the case said on Monday it had officially asked the court to order Lee's formal arrest.

“Each accusation he faces is a significant offence that requires formal arrest,” Yonhap and multiple other media quoted an unidentified senior prosecutor as saying.

“We believe that there is a high risk of possible destruction of evidence (if Lee is not taken under custody),” the official said.

The court is expected to make a decision later this week. If it approves the arrest, Lee will be the fourth surviving former South Korean leader to be detained over corruption.

The allegations against Lee 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.

The ex-president is also accused of accepting millions of dollars from a former chief executive officer of a state-financed banking group for helping him assume the post.

Lee is also accused of receiving US$100,000 in off-book funds from the state spy agency and embezzling millions of dollars from an auto parts company he is said to own under the names of his relatives.

The conservative ex-leader has denounced the investigation as “political revenge” by his rivals.

All the four former South Korean presidents who are still alive have been convicted, charged or investigated for criminal offences.

Lee's predecessor Park Geun Hye is currently in jail pending a verdict in her bribery trial after being impeached last year over a corruption scandal. Prosecutors have demanded 30 years in jail.

Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, former army generals who served through the 1980s to early 1990s, served jail terms in the 1990s for corruption and treason after leaving office.

Both Chun and Roh received presidential pardons after serving about two years.