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(2nd LD) Ex-President Lee grilled in corruption probe

All Headlines 11:12 March 14, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline and first 3 paras as probe began; TRIMS; ADDS background in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- Former President Lee Myung-bak was grilled by prosecutors on Wednesday over a string of corruption allegations including bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Lee appeared at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office at 9:30 a.m. amid a media frenzy and tight security.

Before he entered the prosecution headquarters, Lee read out before a crowd of press members a statement expressing an apology to the public and regret toward the prosecution probe.

"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," he said.

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 interrogation is expected to take more than a whole day. Prosecutors have said they don't plan to question him more than once considering his previous status as president.

It is widely expected that prosecutors will seek an arrest warrant for Lee when they finish questioning him. Some of his key aides, including a wealth manager, have been arrested.

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 had 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.

Lee, former chief executive of Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., entered politics in 1992 as a lawmaker and served as Seoul mayor from 2002 to 2006.

He is the fifth former South Korean president to face a prosecution investigation. His successor Park Geun-hye was ousted from office last year and charged over a massive influence-peddling scandal.

Former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo stood trial in the mid-1990s for corruption and mutiny charges for staging a 1979 military coup before they were pardoned in 1997 by then-President Kim Young-sam.

Late President Roh Moo-hyun was subpoenaed in 2009 over a corruption scandal involving his family. The probe was put to an end after he committed suicide in May of that year.

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)


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