Lee's brother imprisoned over bribery charges
President Lee Myung-bak's elder brother was jailed early Wednesday morning after a Seoul court issued a warrant to arrest him on bribery charges.
Lee Sang-deuk, a former lawmaker of the ruling party, has become the first brother of a sitting president to be put under arrest in modern Korean history, dealing a serious blow to President Lee, who is fighting lame-duck status in his final months in office.
The Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday approved the prosecutors' request for the arrest warrant for the elder Lee, who allegedly took 600 million won (US$525,000) from chairmen of two troubled savings banks -- Solomon Savings Bank and Mirae Savings Bank -- from 2007 to 2011 in return for helping them avoid regulatory audits and punishment.
"Lee's crimes have been ascertained and there is a reasonable concern that the suspect might attempt to destroy evidence, considering his status and political influence," said Park Byoung-sam, a judge at the Seoul court.
Immediately after the issuance of the arrest warrant, the elder Lee, who was waiting at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office (SPO), was taken to the Seoul Detention Center on the southern outskirts of Seoul.
"I'm sorry," Lee said briefly before leaving the SPO building, when asked by reporters what he would say to the president.
The court decision came after the elder Lee, formerly a six-term legislator of the conservative Grand National Party, now re-named the Saenuri Party, attended a hearing that reviewed whether he is likely to flee or destroy evidence.
Dozens of angry citizens who lost savings bank deposits upon the regulatory suspension of the cash-squeezed banks hurled eggs at the elder Lee as he entered the court. One of them briefly grabbed Lee by the collar, accusing him of playing a role in the series of savings bank failures in recent years.
Lee did not respond to reporters asking how the alleged bribe money was spent.
Charges against Lee also include bribes taken from his former employer and textile manufacturer Kolon Group as well as from another unidentified entity. About 700 million won in suspicious funds was found stashed in the bank account of Lee's staff member, and prosecutors are tracking the source of the money.
The warrant issuance came a week after Lee was interrogated by prosecutors over the bribery allegations. President Lee's single five-year term ends in February next year.
Chung Doo-un, an incumbent ruling party lawmaker and a close confidant of the president during the 2007 presidential campaign, was also questioned by prosecutors last week on suspicions of taking bribes from Solomon Savings Bank's Chairman Lim Suk, and introducing Lim to the elder Lee.
The National Assembly is scheduled to hold a vote on Wednesday on whether to pass a court request for approval of Chung's arrest. In South Korea, courts need to get parliamentary approval to arrest a lawmaker while the National Assembly is in session.
The Solomon chairman was earlier indicted under physical detention on charges of extending illegal loans and business malpractice.
The two troubled savings banks had their business suspended by the financial regulator in May for lacking capital and business irregularities. (Yonhap)