Former South Korean President is imprisoned for 15 years on corruption charges
Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been jailed for 15 years for corruption.
Lee, 76, was sentenced in a court in Seoul on Friday for embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power, crimes committed before and during his presidency from 2008 to 2013. The court fined Lee 13 billion won ($11.5 million)
Lee, who denies most of the 16 charges against him, becomes the fourth, former South Korean leader to be jailed. Lee’s conviction comes six months after his successor and fellow conservative Park Geun-hye was convicted in a separate corruption scandal that triggered the country’s greatest political turmoil in decades. She is serving a 33-year prison term.
Chief judge Chung Kye-Sun said Lee: "has bitterly disappointed not only citizens who trusted and supported him but also our entire country."
The court found that Lee was the de-facto owner of DAS – a controversial auto parts company which he claimed was his brother’s – from which he used to create slush funds of around 24 billion.
Lee was also found guilty of accepting nearly six billion won from Samsung Electronics in return for a presidential pardon for its chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was jailed for tax evasion.
A Samsung spokesman declined to comment on Friday’s ruling.
"Despite objective evidence and credible testimonies, he has denied all offences and shifted responsibilities to others by saying he was being framed," the judge said during the trial that was broadcast live.
"Bringing everything into consideration, heavy punishment for the accused is inevitable," she said.
Lee was not in attendance, citing ill-health and in protest against the court’s decision to televise the ruling.
Lee earlier dismissed what prosecutors say are "incriminating" documents and testimony from his relatives and aides as "fabrications".
His lawyer called the ruling "extremely regrettable" and said the court’s finding of Lee as the de-facto owner of DAS "hard to understand".
He told reporters that he will discuss appealing the verdict with Lee and reach a decision by Monday.
South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison after their time in power as all four former South Korean presidents who are still alive have now been convicted for criminal offences.
In addition to Geun-hye, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, former army generals who served as president through the 1980s to early 1990s, served jail terms for corruption and treason after leaving office.
Both Chun and Roh received presidential pardons after serving about two years.
Another former leader, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide after becoming embroiled in a corruption probe.
Before serving as president, Lee was one of the most famous businessmen in South Korea and had been mayor of Seoul.
He joined Hyundai Group’s construction arm in the mid-1960s and led the company’s rapid rise at a time when South Korea’s economy grew explosively from the rubble of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Lee, who once peddled cheap snacks and ice cream on the streets as a poor teenager, started at Hyundai with an entry-level job but eventually rose to CEOs of 10 companies under Hyundai Group. He was dubbed a "salaryman legend" or a "bulldozer," and his success story was chronicled in popular TV dramas.
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