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Ex-President Lee arrested over corruption

Экс-президент Южной Кореи Ли Мён Бак. Коррупция
Source: Korea Times/Bae Woo-han.

This material belongs to: The Korea Times.

The Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant for former President Lee Myung-bak, Thursday, determining that he could destroy evidence pertinent to an investigation of corruption against him. Lee was taken from his home in Gangnam to the Seoul Eastern Detention Center in Songpa-gu, after the court’s ruling.

The prosecution sought the arrest warrant for Lee, Monday, over allegations that he was the de facto owner of DAS, an auto parts company at the center of corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power charges leveled at Lee.

The court had planned to summon the former president Thursday to quiz him over the prosecutors’ charges, but Lee refused to attend saying he had talked enough to the prosecution during questioning March 15.

Prosecutors did not force him to appear, saying: “Giving up the opportunity to state his position in court does not mean Lee will flee. It is one of his rights to not attend questioning.”

The court agreed and cancelled the hearing Wednesday.

Instead, it reviewed the legality of the arrest request based on the prosecution’s documents and arguments by Lee’s legal counsel.

“As it is clear the suspect does not want to attend the hearing, we will skip the questioning process and decide on whether to issue an arrest warrant or not,” a judge said.

Lee, who was president from 2008 to early 2013, is accused of accepting 11 billion won ($10.5 million) in bribes from various interest groups and embezzling 35 billion won through DAS, an auto parts company.

Экс-президент Южной Кореи Ли Мён Бак. Коррупция
Source: Korea Times/Bae Woo-han.

DAS is technically owned by Lee’s eldest brother Lee Sang-eun; but many of the ex-president’s close aides have stated that he is the real owner. Prosecutors suspect he created a 35 billion won slush fund via DAS, and handed over shares of the firm from his elder brother to his son Lee Si-hyung.

Former DAS CEO Kim Sung-woo, along with many other ex-company executives have confessed their involvement in amassing the illegal fund and said that Lee Myung-bak was the real owner of DAS. Kim said during questioning that he delivered 35 billion won to the ex-president.

Prosecutors believe a Nonhyeon-dong property belonged to Lee before he sold it to acquire DAS shares through a borrowed-name account.

They also suspect that Samsung group paid 6 billion won ($5 million) as a retainer to U.S. law firm Akin Gump on behalf of DAS in return for a presidential pardon for its chairman, Lee Kun-hee, in 2009. Samsung was a major client of the American law firm and the prosecution views this as a bribe.

Akin Gump helped DAS recover 14 billion won in what could have been a failed investment. In Korea, 5,500 other investors lost a combined 100 billion won in a stock-rigging scandal involving the company in 2001.

According to prosecutors, former first lady Kim Yoon-ok spent 400 million won on a DAS corporate card from the mid-1990s to late 2007, just before Lee was elected president. Kim used the card to shop at local department stores and overseas duty free shops, which the prosecutors state is more evidence Lee was and is the real owner of the company.