South Korean ex-president Lee ordered back to prison for 17 years

SEOUL (AFP) – Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was ordered back to prison yesterday as the country’s Supreme Court upheld a 17-year jail term for bribery and embezzlement offences.

The conservative Lee, who served as president from 2008 to 2013, had been out on bail awaiting the ruling and was not in court for the decision, but police were seen at his Seoul home to take him away, according to reports.

The ruling is not subject to further appeal for this 78-year-old Lee.

All four of South Korea’s living former presidents are either behind bars or have served jail terms – often as a result of investigations begun under successors who are political rivals.

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. – AP

Lee was first convicted of embezzlement and accepting bribes in late 2018 and jailed. An appeals court later increased his sentence to 17 years but granted him bail pending a further appeal to the nation’s highest court.

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld his conviction for embezzling KRW25.2 billion (USD22 million) and accepting bribes totalling KRW9.4 billion, as well as the 17-year sentence.

Lee is also subject to a KRW13 billion fine and must forfeit assets of KRW5.7 billion.

“There was no legal fallacy in the appellate court’s ruling on bribery and embezzlement,” the Supreme Court said in a statement.

Lee’s conservative successor Park Geun-hye is currently serving 20 years in jail for bribery and abuse of power after being ousted in 2017 over a corruption scandal that prompted massive street protests.

Another former leader, the liberal Roh Moo-hyun, took his own life after being questioned in a corruption probe involving his family – an inquiry that took place during Lee’s presidency.

Roh was the political mentor of incumbent President Moon Jae-in, who served in the Blue House throughout Roh’s presidency, including a year as his chief of staff.