Prosecutors request 23-year sentence for Lee Myung-bak for bribery, embezzlement

Posted on : 2020-01-09 18:16 KST Modified on : 2020-01-09 18:16 KST
Investigation finds former president took more in bribes than originally assessed
Former President Lee Myung-bak, who has been charged with bribery and embezzlement, heads to the final trial in his case at the Seoul High Court on Jan. 8. (Kim Hye-yun, staff photographer)
Former President Lee Myung-bak, who has been charged with bribery and embezzlement, heads to the final trial in his case at the Seoul High Court on Jan. 8. (Kim Hye-yun, staff photographer)

Prosecutors requested a prison sentence of 23 years in an appellate trial for former President Lee Myung-bak, who was charged with bribery and embezzlement involving tens of billions of won. The request was three years longer than the 20-year sentence requested during Lee’s first trial, which resulted in him receiving an original sentence of 15 years.

The first criminal division of Seoul High Court under judge Hon. Jeong Joon-yeong held a final hearing on Jan. 8 for Lee, who was indicted on charges of embezzling funds from the automobile parts company DAS and having his US legal costs paid via bribes from Samsung. The hearing came roughly 14 months after the appellate trial began following sentencing in the first trial in October 2018. Maintaining that the charges of bribe acceptance during Lee’s term should be subject to separate sentencing from the other charges according to the Public Officials Election Act, prosecutors requested 17 years of prison time, 25 billion won (US$21.54 million) in fines, and 16.3 billion won (US$14.05 million) in penalties for the bribery-related charges. For the other charges, they requested a six-year prison sentence and 7 billion won (US$6.03 million) in fines. In all, they requested 23 years in prison, 32 billion won (US$27.58 million) in fines, and 16.3 billion won (US$14.05 million) in penalties.

“The defendant compromised the values of the Constitution by abusing the authority entrusted to him by the people as a means of pursuing personal gain,” the prosecutors said while explaining the reason for their sentencing request. “His borrowed-name possession of DAS was an act of utter deception of a public that wanted to know who DAS’ real owner was.”

“He abused the important status of the presidency to receive large sums as bribes and ‘tribute’ in the form of taxpayer money that should have been used for national security,” they added.

Lee denies any unlawful conduct and de facto ownership of DAS

After the hearing began, Lee sat with his eyes closed and his head slightly lowered as he listened to the prosecutors’ sentencing request and the final arguments, which lasted for over two hours. When the court asked for a final statement, he rose from his seat and read out loud for around 30 minutes from a sheet of A4 paper.

“DAS is a company that was established jointly by my older brother and my brother-in-law Kim Jae-jeong, which they operated for over 30 years without any conflict over its management authority. I have never possessed a single share of DAS stock nor received any dividends,” he said, dismissing the allegations that he was the company’s de facto owner.

Lee also disputed the accusations of accepting bribes from Samsung.

“The prosecutors wrote a script and manufactured an affidavit to concoct a crime of ‘bribery,’” he insisted.

“What this made me realize is the prosecutors can turn someone who never killed anyone into a murderer,’” Lee said. “I pride myself on having never once put my personal ambitions first, either in private enterprise or as a public official.”

Lee was arrested and indicted in April 2018 on 16 counts including the establishment of a 33.9 billion won (US$29.21 million) slush fund through his de facto ownership of DAS between 1992 and 2007 and having Samsung pay billions of won in legal costs for a DAS lawsuit related to the recovery of BBK investment funds. The court in Lee’s first trial recognized him as DAS’s de facto owner and sentenced him to 15 years in prison with 13 billion won (US$11.2 million) in fines and 8.2 billion won (US$7.07 million) in penalties. Of the 6.77 billion won (US$5.83 million) cited in charges concerning DAS legal cost payment, the court recognized 6.1 billion won (US$5.26 million) as constituting bribes.

In the subsequent appellate trial, prosecutors revised their indictment, increasing the bribery amount to over 5.1 billion won (US$4.4 million) on the basis of information passed along in May 2019 by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. They thus concluded that Samsung had paid an even larger amount of legal costs to the US law firm Akin Gump than had been stated in the first trial’s indictment. Another 5.16 billion won (US$4.45 million) was added to the roughly 6.7 billion won (US$5.77 million) Lee was accused of receiving in bribes, bringing the total in the indictment up to 11.93 billion won (US$10.28 million).

Lee’s sentencing is scheduled for 2:05 pm on Feb. 19.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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