Ex-president Lee Myung-bak granted bail with conditions

Posted on : 2019-03-07 16:04 KST Modified on : 2019-03-07 16:04 KST
Court determines case can’t be solved by end of Lee’s detention
Ex-president Lee Myung-bak
Ex-president Lee Myung-bak

“A criminal trial can be regarded as a conversation between the defendant’s present self and past self. After being released on bail and going home, I hope you’ll read each and every one of the charges for which you were indicted and thoughtfully reflect on what was done by your past self.”

Hon. Jeong Jun-yeong, the judge responsible for the Seoul High Court’s 1st Criminal Division, was speaking to ex-president Lee Myung-bak, who was at the witness stand in Courtroom No. 303 on Mar. 6. The appeals court agreed to accept Lee’s request for bail on Wednesday, but imposed a number of conditions. He must stay at his home in the Nonhyeon neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam District, and is strictly prohibited from contacting anyone other than a select few – his spouse, his immediate family members and his attorneys. Along with providing an unusually detailed explanation of the reasons for conditionally granting Lee bail, the court also had a few requests for Lee and the prosecutors. Analysts think that the court was attempting to placate the South Korean public’s anger about a series of controversial decisions to grant bail to convicted criminals.

“Recently there has been increasing interest in the bail system in criminal cases,” the judge began on Wednesday before spending more than 10 minutes explaining the reasons for granting Lee bail. “In order to realize the principle of presuming innocence until proven guilty, we need to allow defendants to remain free while they are being tried. But there are some respects in which the bail system hasn’t been operated with impartiality. This court has decided to accept the defendant’s request for bail on the presumption that the bail system will be operated with impartiality.”

During Lee’s first trial in the lower courts, he accepted all the evidence submitted by the prosecutors and didn’t question the witnesses, but in his appeal he has changed his strategy and asked for the key witnesses to be brought before the court. But the trial has been delayed after one witness after another refused to appear, and during this process the entire composition of the court has been changed. Under these circumstances, the court concluded it would be impossible to reach a verdict in Lee’s appeal by Apr. 8, when Lee’s detention is scheduled to end.

“Even if the verdict were to be rendered on the final day of Lee’s detention, that only leaves us 43 days. Considering the number of witnesses selected by the previous court whose questioning hasn’t been completed, it would be impossible to give this case a proper hearing and deliver a verdict before the end of the detention period for Lee’s appeal,” the court said.

“If Lee were released at the end of his detention period because the trial isn’t over yet, he would be completely free and out of detention for the rest of his trial. At that point, there would be no way to impose conditions such as restrictions on where he can stay and whom he can meet.”

The court explained that it would be better for the trial to continue under these strict conditions, even if that means that Lee gets out of jail a month early.

Court rejects Lee’s medical argument

Lee had requested bail that would limit him to his residence and Seoul National University Hospital because of his old age and health, but this medical argument didn’t pass muster with the court. “I grant the prosecutors’ argument that the medical staff inside the detention center is fully capable of managing the defendant’s health issues and don’t accept his request for bail on the grounds of old age and health issues,” the judge said.

Some think that the court may have been nervous about provoking the kind of controversy that was aroused when Taekwang Group Chairman Lee Ho-jin was granted bail for alleged medical issues. “The court appears to have said it isn’t granting my client bail for medical reasons because of the media controversy about Lee Ho-jin,” said Kang Hun, an attorney affiliated with Lee.

“This court takes seriously the historic significance of an ex-president being on trial. In particular, I intend to proceed with this trial with fairness and impartiality, and without any bias or prejudice about the defendant or the charges against him,” the judge said on Wednesday.

The court also took the unusual step of making requests to both Lee and the prosecutors. Lee was given the following request: “Being released on bail doesn’t mean an acquittal. You’re being released on the condition that you abide by the conditions of bail. You’re requested to take extra steps to ensure you’re not placed under detention again for violating the conditions of bail.”

As for the prosecutors, the judge said, “I’d also request that you monitor the defendant to ensure he’s abiding by the conditions of bail and help ensure that the bail system is being operated strictly and effectively. The prosecutors are primarily responsible for bringing charges in a criminal trial, but they’re also representatives of the public interest. I’d like you to ascertain the whereabouts of the witnesses so that the questioning can take place in a timely manner.”

Because of the court’s decision to grant bail on Wednesday, Lee won’t be under detention for the rest of his appeal.

By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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