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Former President Lee Myung-bak detained on corruption charges

Mar 23,2018
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Former President Lee Myung-bak heads to the Seoul Dongbu Detention Center late Thursday night. [YONHAP]
Former President Lee Myung-bak was taken into custody by prosecutors after a local court issued a warrant Thursday night to detain him as a suspect in a criminal investigation over corruption allegations.

Lee, who served as president from 2008 to 2013, became the fourth former president to be detained on corruption charges.

He 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.

After the Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant around 11:05 p.m. on Thursday, prosecutors went to his home in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, and transported Lee to the Seoul Dongbu Detention Center in Munjeong-dong, southern Seoul.

Earlier in the day, Judge Park Beom-seok reviewed the prosecution’s application for a detention warrant, which was submitted on Monday. Judge Park made the decision after reviewing documents from prosecutors and Lee’s lawyers. A hearing was not held because Lee refused to attend.

Prosecutors questioned the former president on March 14 and asked the court to issue a detention warrant for further investigation because they believed there was a high possibility of evidence destruction. Lee, they argued, might try to persuade witnesses to change their testimony.

“The prosecution provided enough grounds for many parts of the charges,” Judge Park said. “There is a risk of evidence destruction taking into account the status of the suspect, graveness of the charges and the circumstances revealed during the investigation.”

Lee has consistently denied most of the charges against him. He has said the probes against him, his family and associates are a form of political vendetta by the current Moon Jae-in administration.

Shortly after the court issued the detention warrant, Lee posted a statement on his Facebook account.

“Right now, I feel a guilty conscience and I should be blamed for everything, instead of blaming other people,” Lee wrote. “I worked hard to end the wrongful practices of the past and carry out clean politics, but there are shortcomings if today’s standards are used."

He added that he had suffered unbearable pain over the past 10 months, and his family and aides also suffered. “I hope my detention will ease the pains of my aides and family.”

“One day, I hope I will be able to say what I want to say,” Lee said. “I will pray for the country.”

Moon's office issued a brief comment. Kim Eui-kyeom, the president's spokesman, said “It is just pitiful. We cannot elaborate any further. We will use our utmost prudence and remain hard on ourselves.”

Lee waited for the court’s decision from his home in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, on Thursday. The prosecution picked him up at his residence and transported him to the Seoul Dongbu Detention Center.

The prosecution decided to hold him at the Dongbu center because former President Park Geun-hye, currently on trial for bribery and abuse of power, is being held at the Seoul Detention Center, the other proposed location.

There is also the fear of possible collusion since other suspects in the Lee scandal are being held at the Seoul Detention Center.

Lee is expected to be jailed at a solitary cell in the Dongbu center.

The charges against the former president are wide ranging. The prosecution’s warrant application listed precise figures for the amount of bribes that Lee allegedly accepted and money that he embezzled. “We wanted to make sure accurate numbers are used before a possible indictment and trial,” a source from the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo.

According to the warrant application, Lee accepted over 11.18 billion won ($10.43 million) in bribes. Some of the amount was quoted in U.S. dollars since they involved payments to an American law firm. Prosecutors decided to use the exchange rate at the time of the transaction to determine the won amount in the warrant application.

Prosecutors believe Lee received over 6.77 million won from Samsung Electronics in the form of legal fees for a company that he allegedly owned. DAS, an auto parts maker technically owned by Lee’s brother but in actuality may have been run by Lee himself, was involved in a lawsuit in the United States to retrieve an investment in a failed venture.

Samsung allegedly paid a firm $125,000 a month from November 2007 to November 2011 to represent DAS. A majority of those payments were made while Lee was president, allegedly in return for a pardon of the Samsung chairman who was convicted of tax evasion.

At DAS, prosecutors suspect Lee created a slush fund worth 33.9 billion won, adjusted down from previous media reports of 35 billion won. Together with his wife, Lee is believed to have embezzled an additional 34.8 billion won from the company.

The warrant application said Lee’s wife, Kim Yoon-ok, also took bribes worth 262.3 million won.

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