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Prosecutors ask court to detain former President Lee

Mar 20,2018
Prosecutors on Monday requested a warrant to detain former President Lee Myung-bak, who faces a wide range of corruption charges.

The Seoul Central District Court is expected to hold a hearing on the warrant on Wednesday. Prosecutors want to detain Lee for further investigation because he denied most of the charges against him during questioning despite the existence of physical evidence. They believe there is a high possibility of evidence destruction because Lee may try to persuade witnesses to change their statements.

Lee, who served as president from 2008 to 2013, faces at least 18 charges for receiving bribes from businessmen and politicians, misappropriating secret operations funds from the country’s main spy agency and generating slush funds using a company registered under his family’s name.

Last week, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office questioned Lee for 21 hours over the charges. Lee denied most of them.

Among the charges, the 76-year-old former president is suspected of raising about 35 billion won ($32.63 million) in slush funds through DAS, an auto parts maker technically owned by his older brother. The prosecution suspects that the former president is the actual owner of the company.

Lee is suspected of misappropriating DAS’s funds and evading taxes. He also faces a breach of trust charge for forcing DAS and its affiliates to give unsecured loans to his son’s company. During his time in office, Lee is also said to have received a total of 11 billion won in bribes.

Prosecutors believe Lee received $5 million from Samsung Electronics, as the conglomerate paid DAS’s legal fees in a U.S. court. Another 2.25 billion won in bribes allegedly came from Lee Pal-sung, then chairman of Woori Financial Group, and about 500 million won came from Daebo Group. Other bribes came from a range of businessmen, a politician and a Buddhist temple.

Lee is also accused of receiving about 1.75 billion won in special operations funds from the National Intelligence Service during his term in office. Earlier this month, a former presidential secretary who acted as a deliveryman was already indicted as an accessary to the crime. Lee was identified as a primary suspect.

The prosecution also accused Lee of abusing power as president to regain DAS’s investment from a failed venture. Other charges also concern his ownership and management of assets under assumed names. “Because the amount of alleged bribes alone is 11 billion won, this is a serious issue,” a source in the prosecution said.

Lee is the fifth former president to face a criminal investigation. If the Seoul Central District Court grants the warrant, he will become the fourth former president to be taken into custody. He is also the second former president to stand a warrant hearing since the system was introduced in 1997.

Lee’s successor, Park Geun-hye, was the first former president to be detained after a hearing. She was questioned by prosecutors on March 21 last year for receiving bribes from conglomerates and abusing the power of her office. Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were detained in 1995 without hearings.

On Monday, a source in the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo that a son-in-law of former President Lee has submitted a statement to prosecutors that implicates the scandal-ridden leader in a bribery charge, Lee Sang-joo, head of Samsung Electronics’ compliance team and husband to the former president’s eldest daughter, has admitted to delivering money from a troubled shipbuilder to the former president, the source said.

Of the charges Lee faces, one is an allegation that he had accepted 2.25 billion won from Lee Pal-sung - who has no relation to President Lee’s family - who was then the chairman of Woori Financial Group, between 2007 and 2011. The banker allegedly paid the money to keep his job during Lee’s presidency.

Prosecutors suspect that Sungdong Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering was the source of the money Lee Pal-sung used to pay the Lee family. The midsize shipbuilder has been in dire financial straits since 2008, and Woori Bank was one of its creditors.

According to the source, Lee Sang-joo submitted a one-page statement to prosecutors on March 11, when he was questioned as a suspect. In the statement, he admitted to receiving about 500 million won from Sungdong Shipbuilding and handing over the money to the former president.

The statement is a reversal from earlier testimony he gave during questioning on Feb. 27 and 28 when he was labeled as a witness.

Prosecutors later named him a suspect in their investigation on March 9.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]