Myung-Bak Lee has never been Korea’s favorite leader. While many argue that it was Lee who thrust Korea onto the global scene and made it the popular nation that it is today, others are obdurately unwilling to support a man whose five-year presidency was riddled with corruption. (In fact, Lee has an entire section on his Wikipedia page dedicated to just his scandals.)
It must have come to no surprise to those who oppose Lee, then, when he was arrested on March 22nd for bribery, embezzlement, and tax evasion — all of which allegedly occurred before and during his presidency.
According to the New York Times, Lee’s most serious charges include “collecting more than $10 million in bribes from various sources, including Samsung” when he was both a presidential candidate and president. Moreover, Lee apparently “hid his ownership of a lucrative auto-parts maker in the name of relatives and embezzled $32 million from the business.” Not only that, but he also used his presidential power “to help settle a legal case implicating the auto-parts company.”
The list of Lee’s accusation continues, and Lee faces a lifetime in prison if he is found guilty for these charges.
Of course, Lee did his best to clear up his name and posted a picture of a handwritten apology to the public on his FaceBook account. In the note, Lee lamented, “I feel that all is my fault, and I feel a sense of guilt.”
Despite such an apology, Lee went on to deny most of the charges against him. The politician labeled the investigation as an act of “political revenge” led by the liberal and current president of Korea, Jae-In Moon. Those familiar with Lee’s political history, though, are not buying the excuse.
Nonetheless, Lee seemed sincere enough when he informed reporters, “I stand here with a heavy heart. I hope that I will be the last former president to stand here,” as he made his way to the prosecutors’ office in Seoul a few weeks ago.
This is perhaps Lee’s only statement that the public can agree on. After all, former presidents being arrested after their presidency is somewhat of an infamous trend here in Korea. In fact, “all four former South Korean presidents who are still alive have been convicted, charged, or instigated for criminal offences.” As eloquently put by Je-Won Chang, the spokesperson for the Liberty Party Korea, “Should living as a former president in this country be this difficult?”
Due to both the arrest of Lee and other former president Geun-Hye Park, President Moon’s government recently “unveiled a bill to revise the Constitution to curtail presidential power.” Moon’s proposed constitutional revision comprises of numerous suggestions: reducing the five-year presidential term to four years; handing over the decision to name the chief of the Constitutional Court from the president to the court’s justices; reducing the president’s power in appointing commissioners of the Board of Audit and Inspection; and curtailing the president’s power to grant special pardons.
Such a bill will undoubtedly be difficult to pass. However, it is a bill that Korea desperately needs, and the latest arrest of Myung-Bak Lee proves its urgency.