In this Nov 20, 2012 photo, the then South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak attends the East Asian Summit Plenary Session at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. Lee on March 14, 2018 appeared before state prosecutors for questioning over multiple corruption charges, local TV footage showed. (JEWEL SAMAD / AFP)
SEOUL - Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was questioned by prosecutors on Wednesday for corruption charges that include bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion.
Lee, who ended his five-year presidential term in Feb 2013, appeared in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office Wednesday morning as a "criminal suspect," local TV footage showed.
Before going into the prosecution office, Lee read a statement and apologized to South Koreans. He hoped that he would be the country's last president in history to be probed by state prosecutors.
Lee became the latest South Korean leader to be grilled by prosecutors over the corruption allegations.
Park Geun-hye, Lee's successor, was ousted last year for an influence-peddling scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.
Park was grilled by prosecutors in March 2017 and she was taken into custody later in the month. She is now standing trial, with prosecutors requesting 30 years in jail. A Seoul court is set to hand down a ruling next month.
Lee was reportedly being questioned at the same room of the prosecution office as the one for Park a year ago on allegations that he had received tens of millions of US dollars in bribes from the country's intelligence agency and big companies, including Samsung Electronics.
Samsung is believed to have paid retaining fees, on Lee's behalf, in the US for DAS, a South Korean auto parts maker which Lee allegedly owns under his relatives' names. DAS is under investigation for embezzlement and creating a slush fund, which is believed to have been funneled into Lee for his presidential campaign.
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, currently being in hospital, got a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS), the country's spy agency, is believed to have delivered secret operation fund to Lee's office at his behest through his closest aides, some of whom already admitted the allegation.
Prosecutors raided the offices and homes of Lee's relatives and aides, many of whom were summoned for questioning.
Lee is also suspected of dodging taxes through accounting fraud in DAS and by owning real estate assets and bank deposits under borrowed names.
HONG KONG NEWS