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(LEAD) Ex-President Lee appears for questioning in corruption probe

All Headlines 09:57 March 14, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline and lead; UPDATES throughout with Lee's arrival at prosecution office; TRIMS; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- Former President Lee Myung-bak offered an apology to the people as he appeared for prosecution questioning Wednesday over a string of corruption allegations that include bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

He arrived at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office at around 9:30 a.m. The prosecution summoned him last week.

The fifth former South Korean president to face a prosecution investigation stood before a crowd of local and foreign reporters and photojournalists, who have flocked to cover yet another spectacle of an ex-leader caught up in a political scandal.

"I stand here today with wretched feelings," the 77-year-old told reporters. "I am deeply sorry for causing concern to the public at a time when our economy is struggling and regional security is at stake."

He stressed he has many things to say as a former president but said he's determined to "save his breath."

"I just wish that (I) will be the last in history."

Lee walked into the building without taking any questions from reporters.

Lee, who was president from 2008 to 2013, is suspected of taking a total of 11 billion won (US$10.3 million) in bribes from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) -- South Korea's state spy agency -- as well as Samsung and others, including from a former chief of a major banking group, around the time of his election win and in the early years of his term in office.

He also faces suspicions that he was involved in huge illegal funds created through DAS, an auto parts maker. The company has been long rumored to be controlled by Lee, even though on paper it belongs to his elder brother, Lee Sang-eun.

Prosecutors are said to have concluded that Lee is the secret proprietor of DAS and have accused him of creating 30 billion won in slush funds through DAS and its subcontractors.

The former president is also suspected of having had Samsung pay 6 billion won of legal fees owed by DAS to a U.S. law firm from November 2007 to March 2009 in a suit that sought to recoup DAS' 14 billion-won investment in a U.S. company.

Prosecutors believe Lee abused his presidential power and ordered his office and foreign ministry to help the auto parts firm recover the money.

He has denied all accusations, denouncing the investigation as political retaliation by the current administration of liberal President Moon Jae-in.

The prosecution office and police beefed up security around the perimeter to prevent any possible clash. The prosecution temporarily shut down most of its entrances and only allowed entry for media personnel whose IDs have been cleared in advance.

Police dispatched 13 squads of over 1,000 officers to provide security near the prosecution office in Seocho, southern Seoul, and around Lee's residence, about 4.7 kilometers from the prosecution building.

Former President Lee Myung-bak reads out his statement before he goes into the prosecution office building on March 14, 2018 as he is set to be questioned over a string of corruption allegations. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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