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(LEAD) Ex-President Lee denies charges in corruption trial

All Headlines 15:36 May 23, 2018

(ATTN: CHANGES lead; UPDATES story with Lee's remarks in courtroom and more info throughout; TRIMS)

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- Former President Lee Myung-bak insisted on his innocence at the first hearing in his corruption trial Wednesday, claiming that he has been wrongly accused for political reasons.

The 77-year-old former leader showed up at the Seoul Central District Court wearing a dark suit, marking his first public appearance in two months after his arrest over a string of charges including bribery and embezzlement.

"I feel deeply sad ... the indictment is far-fetched," he said when the court gave him a chance to make a statement. "It is painful to fight against people whom I worked with leading this country."

Lee, president from 2008-2013, was indicted on April 9 on 16 counts of corruption, making himself the country's fourth former leader to face trial. He has been accused of accepting about 11.1 billion won (US$10.3 million) in bribes, including some 700 million won from the state spy agency and $5.85 million in lawsuit expenses Samsung Electronics paid on behalf of an auto parts company Lee is suspected of owning.

Lee is suspected of embezzling about 35 billion won from the auto parts firm DAS and using the money for political and personal purposes.

Some of his closest aides have been put behind bars for their involvement in the alleged crimes. Lee was arrested in March and has been under presentencing detention.

Lee has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigation against him is political retaliation by the liberal Moon Jae-in government.

He again pleaded not guilty in Wednesday's hearing. Regarding his suspected DAS ownership, he insisted it is his brother's firm and raised questions over whether it's "right for the state to intervene in" such a family business.

"(The charges related to) DAS are something that is just incomprehensible to the extent of my common sense," Lee said.

Lee strongly refuted the charge related to Samsung's suspected lawsuit fees, saying it's "a shock and an insult" to accuse him of the crime.

"I made a resolve, when I entered politics, that I would not abuse power against businesses for money and retaliate against them with tax probes if they didn't listen."

Lee also asked the court to review the credibility of all evidence presented by the prosecution. He has refused to meet prosecutors in the detention center for additional questioning, raising doubts over the way his case has been handled.

He apologized to the public as a former president appearing as a defendant in a criminal trial. He called on the judiciary to take his hearing as an opportunity to prove its principle of impartiality.

The court allowed local media to cover the first several minutes of Lee's trial, citing public interest and the right to know. Lee's attendance at the court hearing was compulsory for the trial to proceed.

(LEAD) Ex-President Lee denies charges in corruption trial - 1


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