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Detained Lee set to be grilled further today

Mar 26,2018
The prosecution will send investigators today to the Seoul Dongbu Detention Center to question former President Lee Myung-bak, who was taken into custody last week as a suspect in a range of alleged wrongdoings.

“Starting from 2 p.m. on Monday, we will question Lee at an interrogation room of the Dongbu Detention Center,” an official from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said Sunday.

Lee, who served as president from 2008 to 2013, was taken into custody by prosecutors on Thursday night after the Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant for his detention. He is facing at least 18 charges of 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.

According to the prosecution, senior prosecutor Shin Bong-su, head of the advanced crime department, will lead the interrogation, according to the official. Other prosecutors and investigators will also join the session.

Shin is one of the senior prosecutors who interrogated Lee on March 14. His team has concentrated its probe on allegations about DAS, an auto parts maker technically owned by Lee’s brother but allegedly run by Lee.

At DAS, prosecutors suspect Lee created a slush fund worth 33.9 billion won ($31.4 million). Together with his wife, Lee is believed to have embezzled an additional 34.8 billion won from the company.

The prosecution also alleges that Lee accepted over 11.18 billion won in bribes. Of the total amount, Lee allegedly received over 6.77 million won from Samsung Electronics in the form of legal fees for DAS.

Lee is currently locked in a solitary cell on the 12th floor of the Dongbu Detention Center in Munjeong-dong, southern Seoul. He spent Sunday without any visitors, according to sources from the legal community. He met with lawyers on Friday, and his younger daughter visited him on Saturday.

While prosecutors suspect that Lee is the actual owner of DAS, Lee has insisted on his innocence. He maintains the probes are a form of political payback by the current Moon Jae-in administration.

Lee is expected to attend the questioning session, but continue to deny the charges. “The answers of the president will not change, even if the prosecutors question him again,” one of Lee’s lawyers said after the defense team met with him at the detention center on Friday.

The prosecution argues that Lee has been the true owner of DAS since its foundation in 1987 and has raised slush funds by manipulating accounting records, based on testimonies of former and current DAS executives. Lee’s lawyers said their statements are false and they wanted to blame Lee for their own embezzlement. The lawyers said there is no physical evidence to prove Lee’s charge, other than the witnesses’ statements. According to the prosecution sources, the prosecution is continuing to investigate additional allegations. A lucrative real estate deal by a DAS affiliate in 2003, when Lee was Seoul mayor, is being investigated as a part of the new probe.

Lee’s biggest weakness is his family, the prosecution sources said, because his wife and children are linked to the criminal allegations. Lee’s wife, Kim Yoon-ok, is suspected of receiving about 500 million won in bribes from businessmen, and speculation is high that she will be summoned next week for questioning. Kim was also accused of embezzling about 400 million won from DAS over a decade by using the company’s credit card.

Lee’s son, Lee Si-hyung, is accused of embezzlement and breach of trust, based on the prosecution’s conclusion that the former president is the actual owner of DAS. Lee Si-hyung joined DAS as an entry-level office worker in 2010, but he was promoted to executive director in 2015.

“We have to investigate suspicions related to the family,” a prosecution source said.

“The prosecution can use various approaches for a crime that involves family members,” said a prosecutor-turned lawyer, hinting that the prosecution may use the family as a means to pressure the former president.

BY SER MYO-JA, YOON HO-JIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]