South Korea chief approves probe of president-elect

Roh defends his decision to pass bill, saying there is need to relieve the public suspicion

South Korea chief approves probe
of president-elect

South Korea's president approved an independent probe yesterday of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, over financial fraud allegations that have cast a cloud over the ex-Seoul mayor's landslide election win.
The unprecedented investigation into a president-elect was prompted from allegations by Lee's liberal rivals that he was directly involved in an investment firm at the center of an alleged stock manipulation case.
Lee has categorically denied the allegations. Prosecutors cleared him earlier this month of wrongdoing while indicting a Korean-American former business partner who was extradited from the U.S. for allegedly spreading false information to boost stock prices and fleeing with millions of U.S. dollars in ill-gotten gains.
But liberals in parliament accused the prosecution of bias and passed a bill just two days before last week's presidential vote calling for an independent counsel, after they released a 2000 video showing Lee bragging in a speech that he founded the firm involved. Lee has said the comments were taken out of context.
"There is a need to relieve the public suspicion," President Roh Moo-hyun, a liberal who is an ideological rival of Lee, said as he approved the bill at a Cabinet meeting, according to his office. Roh also noted Lee said he would accept the special probe.
Lee, also a former Hyundai executive, said during the campaign that he would step down as president if found to have been involved in financial irregularities.
Still, Lee's conservative Grand National Party accused Roh of approving the special probe as a ploy to affect April parliamentary elections and claimed the move was unconstitutional.
"It is a very inappropriate action for the outgoing president," party spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said in a statement posted on the party's Web site.
The bill requires Roh to name a special prosecutor who can investigate the allegations for up to 47 days - meaning the probe will be completed before the February 25 presidential inauguration.
Under South Korean law, the election of a president-elect can be nullified if the person receives a prison term or fine of 1 million won (US$1,070) or more, according to National Election Commission.
However, such a case is highly unlikely because appeals by a president-elect would drag court procedures past inauguration day. The Constitution grants immunity to a president from a criminal lawsuit unless the officeholder engages in serious crimes such as treason.
Also yesterday, Lee presided over the first meeting of his transition team where he called on his advisers to meet the public's expectations for change after a decade of liberal rule.
"There was a lot of rhetoric over the past 10 years, but few accomplishments," Lee said.

Updated : 2021-04-11 09:12 GMT+08:00