AP NEWS

South Korean ex-president Lee granted bail in bribery case

March 6, 2019
FILE - In this May 23, 2018, file photo, former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, center, appears for his first trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea. A South Korean court on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, has approved the release of Lee on 1 billion won ($885,000) bail during his ongoing corruption trial. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was released from detention Wednesday after a court approved 1 billion won ($885,000) bail nearly a year after his arrest and during the ongoing appeal of his corruption conviction and sentence.

An official from the Seoul High Court said Lee was permitted to return home after he accepted strict monitoring conditions that resemble a house arrest, including a ban on meeting or communicating with people beyond direct family members and lawyers. The official didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

Dressed in a black jacket and tie-less shirt, Lee was escorted out of the detention center and driven in a black sedan to his southern Seoul home that was surrounded by lines of police officers.

Lee, 77, has denied the accusations against him and appealed to the High Court after a lower court convicted him of bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in October.

Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, is also serving a lengthy prison term over a separate corruption scandal for which she was removed from office in 2017 following months of huge anti-government rallies. She has not requested bail.

Lee’s lawyers had called for his release, citing his age and what they described as deteriorating health. The judge didn’t acknowledge the health concerns but signed off on his release because it was unlikely that a verdict would be reached until his arrest warrant expires next month, the court official said. She said the strict bail conditions would reduce the possibility of Lee tampering or destroying evidence while free.

Still, the court’s decision drew criticism from the ruling liberal party, which said in a statement that Lee’s release caused “huge disappointment” for South Koreans. Hwang Kyo-ahn, a former South Korean prime minister and leader of the conservative Liberty Korean Party, said it was “fortunate” that Lee was released considering his supposed health problems.

Prosecutors said most of Lee’s alleged crimes took place while he was president from 2008 to 2013 or when he was a candidate before winning the 2007 election.

The charges against Lee include taking about $10 million in bribes from business group Samsung, the country’s spy agency and others. Prosecutors also say Lee embezzled about $30 million in funds from an auto parts company he owned and evaded about $280,000 in corporate taxes.

Lee was a Hyundai CEO and Seoul mayor before he became president. His election victory ended a decade a liberal rule that sought rapprochement with North Korea and reflected voters’ hopes that he would revive a bad economy. But Lee’s presidency was marred by political and corruption scandals and heightened animosity with North Korea, including attacks on a warship and a border island that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.