SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean authorities arrested a former president Friday on charges of bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion, the country’s second former leader to be imprisoned within the past year.
Lee Myung-bak, who was president from 2008 to 2013, was taken to a prison in the capital, Seoul, after a court issued an arrest warrant.
Local television stations carried live coverage as prosecutors escorted him from his home in Seoul and took him to jail shortly after midnight.
His arrest came a year after his successor, former President Park Geun-hye, was arrested following her parliamentary impeachment on bribery and other criminal charges. The two former leaders are being held in separate prisons.
“I consider all this my own fault and feel remorse,” Lee, 76, said in a handwritten statement posted on Facebook shortly before his arrest.
South Korea’s current president, Moon Jae-in, won an election to replace Park last May with promises to root out corrupt ties between politics and business that have bedeviled the country for decades.
In recent weeks, state prosecutors have questioned or arrested several of Lee’s former aides as well as relatives and businessmen as they built their case against the former president. Lee, a former Hyundai executive, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption, and his arrest had been expected since he was summoned and questioned by prosecutors last week.
Lee was accused of collecting more than $10 million in bribes from various sources, including Samsung, the county’s largest business conglomerate, when he was a presidential candidate and after he took office. Samsung has not commented on the case, although prosecutors have questioned one of its former vice chairmen and raided his home.
Prosecutors say that Lee hid his ownership of a lucrative auto parts maker in the name of relatives and embezzled $32 million from the business. Lee was also accused of using his presidential power to help settle a legal case implicating the auto parts company, getting a business conglomerate to pay $5.8 million in lawyer fees, they said. If convicted, Lee could be sentenced to life in prison.
Almost all of South Korea’s presidents have seen their reputations tarnished toward the end of their tenure or during their retirement because of corruption scandals involving them, their relatives or aides. Lee is the fourth former president to have been arrested on corruption charges since the 1990s.
The former military dictator Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to death and his friend and successor, Roh Tae-woo, was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison on bribery, mutiny and sedition charges in 1996. Both of their sentences were later reduced, and they were pardoned and released in 1997.
Park, who succeeded Lee in 2013, became the first South Korean president to be impeached by parliament. That vote in December 2016 followed weeks of huge demonstrations fueled by accusations she was involved in a corruption scandal. She was formally removed from office and arrested last March.
Last month, prosecutors asked a Seoul court to sentence Park to 30 years in prison on charges of collecting or demanding $21 million in bribes from big businesses. A three-judge panel is scheduled to announce its ruling on Park on April 6.
In the wake of Park’s impeachment, critics attributed the recurring corruption scandals at the center of political power in South Korea to what they called the unbridled power of its “imperial presidency.” On Thursday, Moon’s government unveiled a bill to revise the constitution to curtail presidential power.
In his proposed constitutional revision, Moon suggested that the current, single five-year presidential term be replaced with a four-year term and that the incumbent leader be allowed to seek another term. But Moon cannot benefit from the proposed revision and cannot seek re-election.
The proposed revision deprives the president of the right to name the chief of the country’s Constitutional Court, handing that decision over to the court’s justices. It also reduced the president’s power in appointing commissioners of the government watchdog Board of Audit and Inspection. It also curtailed the president’s power to grant special pardons, which critics said has long been abused to free business tycoons convicted of bribery and other white-color crimes.
But Moon will find it hard to pass his bill through parliament. His governing party has only 121 seats there, well short of the 195 votes needed for a constitutional revision. Even if the bill is approved by lawmakers, it is also subject to referendum.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.