South Korea prosecutors seek arrest warrant for ex-president Lee

Lee Youn-taek arrives at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Sunday

Prosecutors in South Korea have requested an arrest warrant for the former president Lee Myung-bak on charges of graft, embezzlement and abuse of power, making him the fourth former leader to face criminal charges.

Lee, the latest of several ex-leaders to be embroiled in a criminal inquiry, is being investigated for multiple cases of bribery amounting to millions of dollars.

The allegations against Lee include a claim that the electronics giant Samsung Group bought a presidential pardon in 2009 for its chairman Lee Kun Hee, who had been convicted of tax evasion and given a suspended prison term.

The Seoul Central District Court will review the prosecution's request to arrest Lee Myung-bak and possibly summon the former president for questioning later this week. "We believe that there is a high risk of possible destruction of evidence" if he was not detained. The decision is expected to be made within the week.

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In return for the legal fee offer, Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee is believed to have bought a presidential pardon in 2009 when the Samsung chairman, now in hospital, got a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion.

Prosecutors accuse Lee of taking a total of $10 million (11 billion won) in bribes from his own intelligence agency, business groups and a former lawmaker. He has previously called the investigation "political revenge" and denied the charges against him.

Investigators believe the former president received around $186,600 from Ji Kwang, a monk in charge of one of Korea's biggest monasteries, in return for "accommodating the establishment of a Buddhist university", JoongAng Ilbo reported.

Lee's predecessor Park Geun-Hye is now in jail pending a verdict in her bribery trial after being impeached past year over a corruption scandal. Lee, a former Hyundai executive, is also accused of using his presidential power to settle a legal case against an auto parts company he secretly owned. Prosecutors have demanded 30 years in jail.

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