South Korea prosecutors seek arrest warrant for ex-president Lee

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak third from left is escorted upon arrival for questioning over bribery allegations at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office in Seoul South Korea Wednesday

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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