Lee to be grilled after Olympics

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Lee to be grilled after Olympics

Prosecutors have decided to wait until after March to interrogate former President Lee Myung-bak, a senior prosecution official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday.

“We still have many things to check,” the source said. “It’s premature to say for sure that we will summon him. Even if we will, it will be sometime in March, after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics end.”

Speculation was mounting that Lee would be summoned before the opening of the sports event, scheduled for Feb. 9, as prosecutors questioned Lee’s relatives and associates over the past weeks and conducted raids.

The prosecution is investigating a series of allegations involving the former leader, who governed the country from 2008 till 2013. Multiple probes of his administration’s alleged interference in domestic politics and suspected corruption involving the businessman-turned-politician are simultaneously ongoing.

One of the investigations is on DAS, an auto component manufacturer owned by Lee’s elder brother. The former president, suspected as the actual owner of the company, is accused of having created slush funds using DAS. A separate but related probe is also investigating whether Lee abused his power as president to collect DAS’s investment from a failed investment venture, BBK, before small private investors retrieved their money through a civil suit. BBK was an offshore investment fund established by Lee’s former business partner, Kim Kyung-joon.

Since last week, the prosecution obtained new evidence in the DAS scandal. On Friday, Rep. Park Beom-kye of the ruling Democratic Party released a transcript of a recorded conversation between Lee’s nephew, Kim Dong-hyeok, and a DAS official. Kim is a son of Lee’s late elder sister.

According to the dialogue, which took place in 2016, Kim said the “old man” made a request through Lee Si-hyung for 14 billion won ($13 million) that DAS collected from BBK. Lee Si-hyung is the son of the former president, and “old man” appeared to refer to Lee.

Another recorded conversation between Lee’s other nephew, Lee Dong-hyung, and a DAS official was also made public by local media on Wednesday. Lee Dong-hyeong is a son of Lee’s elder brother Lee Sang-eun, who is currently listed as DAS’s chairman.

In the transcript, Lee Dong-hyung said Lee’s son Si-hyung was doing whatever he wants with the company, relying on his father’s power, because they own it. Lee Dong-hyung also said he and his father had made sacrifices for them.

The prosecution reportedly has about 800 transcripts of sensitive conversations. “We secured all transcripts of conversations involving DAS officials,” an investigator said.

The prosecution also secured more evidence by raiding a building owned by Lee on Thursday. Sources said documents from the Lee Blue House were seized in the raid, and investigators are searching for evidence to back the charge that Lee abused presidential power to collect DAS’s investment from BBK in 2011. The statute of limitations for abuse of power is seven years, so charges are still possible. Lee may face other charges for illegally holding onto Blue House documents.

A confession by the former head of DAS, Kim Sung-woo, could also be trouble for the former president. Kim headed the company for 12 years since 1996 and he recently told the prosecution that Lee ordered the starting of DAS in 1987, sources said. Kim also confessed that the former president received various reports about its operation and business, according to the sources.

BY KIM YOUNG-MIN, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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