World News

South Korea ex-president says charges false after order to return to prison

By Elizabeth Shim   |   Oct. 29, 2020 at 9:23 AM
Journalists wait for former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in front of the former president's residence in Seoul on Thursday. South Korea's Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling of a 17-year prison term for Lee, who was charged with embezzlement and bribery. Photo by Kim Chul-soo/EPA-EFE

Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak condemned a court ruling that requires him to serve the remainder of his 17-year prison sentence in jail, saying rule of law has "collapsed" in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Lee, 78, was released on bail in 2019 after spending about a year in state custody, following his arrest and subsequent conviction on corruption charges. On Thursday, Lee said through his attorney Kang Hoon that his rivals in government were seeking retribution, the Donga Ilbo reported.

"The rule of law has collapsed," Lee said, according to the JoongAng Ilbo. "I worry about the future of this country."

Kang said Thursday the embezzlement allegations are false, and that his client did not take even a single penny.

Lee's attorney also said the legal proceedings were rushed.


"Is it normal to hold a trial for such severe punishment in six months?" Kang said.

The former president, who was in office from 2008 to 2013, was serving his sentence at home, on the condition that he remain within the boundaries of his private residence in Seoul and limit communication to a few people.

On Thursday, South Korea's Supreme Court ruled Lee must also pay a $11.6 million fine and forfeit as much as $5 million in assets.

Lee, a former chief executive of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, was convicted of embezzling about $31 million from DAS, an auto parts company, between 1994 and 2006. DAS funded a Lee-backed enterprise, and Lee owned DAS through relatives, South Korea's court has said.

The case is polarizing politicians in South Korea's ruling and main opposition parties. Shin Young-dae, a spokesman for the ruling Democratic Party, said the main opposition conservatives of the People Power Party should issue an apology to the public for Lee's misdeeds, and for the shortcomings of former President Park Geun-hye, another conservative, who is serving a 20-year prison term after being impeached in 2017 on corruption charges.