SEOUL – Former president Lee Myung-bak was sentenced Friday to 15 years in jail over a set of corruptions, including bribery and embezzlement, becoming the fourth ex-South Korean leader to be criminally convicted.
The Seoul Central District Court found Lee, who served as the country’s head of state for five years from early 2008, guilty of corruption and also fined him 13 billion won (11.5 million U.S. dollars).
The sentencing session was live broadcast though the 76-year-old refused to appear at the courtroom.
Lee was arrested on March 22 and indicted on April 9. Prosecutors demanded 20 years in prison on 16 counts but was convicted of just seven charges.
The court ruled that he embezzled 2.46 billion won from DAS, an auto parts company at the center of the scandal. It concluded, on the basis of testimony by Lee’s close aides, that he is the de facto owner of the company, disguising it as his brother’s company. Lee denied the allegation he was the real owner of the company.
The court also ruled he accepted 5.9 billion won in bribes from Samsung Electronics Co. in the form of retaining fees for DAS. Samsung paid the money seeking a presidential pardon for Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was jailed for tax evasion, it said.
Lee was also found guilty of receiving about 2.4 billion won in bribes from a financial company chief, a former intelligence agency chief and a former lawmaker.
The court said he caused a 400 million won loss to the state by receiving inappropriate money from the state intelligence agency’s special activities fund. But the court did not recognize it as bribery.
Lee’s lawyer said he will appeal the ruling. Lee did not attend the hearing in protest against the live broadcast as he insisted the trial was a political retaliation by administration of President Moon Jae-in over the death of late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh killed himself in 2009 while under a prosecution investigation into corruption allegations. Moon served as Roh’s chief of staff.
The scandal has tainted Lee’s long-established image of a self-made man who started off as a salaryman and rose to the top post at one of the country’s leading companies in only 11 years. He entered politics in 1992.
His successor, Park Geun-hye, is serving 33 years behind bars pending a top court decision over a string of corruption charges that led to her ousting last year.
Former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were convicted of corruption and other charges until they were pardoned by former President Kim Young-sam.
Meanwhile, Shin Dong-bin, chairman of Lotte Group, the country’s fifth-biggest conglomerate, was released Friday as an appeals court suspended his sentence.
The Seoul High Court sentenced Shin to two and a half years in jail with the suspension of execution for four years over his offer of kickback to the impeached Park.