MB boycotts final hearing in corruption trial today

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MB boycotts final hearing in corruption trial today

Former President Lee Myung-bak will boycott the final hearing in his trial for corruption on Friday, his lawyers announced Thursday afternoon - a controversial end to a trial sealing the fate of yet another former head of state.

It was initially thought that Lee would attend the hearing at the Seoul Central District Court on Friday, in which a judge will give both a verdict and - if it is guilty - a sentence. He was present at nearly all his trial hearings, save for a few missed due to health-related issues.

The court’s decision on Tuesday to allow a live broadcast of the hearing is believed to have pushed Lee toward a boycott. Lee’s lawyers said on Thursday he would not attend due to his health, security issues and the fact that a broadcast of the event would “damage the nation’s reputation and harmony between its people.”

Lee, 76, was tried on 16 separate charges ranging from corruption, bribery and power abuse, much of them allegedly perpetrated during his term as president from 2008 to 2013. He was detained in March to avoid him tampering with evidence and indicted the following month. That made Lee the fourth Korean president to face a criminal trial after serving in office.

Prosecutors requested a jail sentence of 20 years and a fine of 15 billion won ($13.2 million) for Lee at a penultimate hearing on Sept. 6. In that same hearing, the former president made a final statement denying all charges against him. He claimed to be “a person who hates corruption and collusion between politics and business.”

Throughout the trial that began in May, Lee maintained that the charges were politically motivated and pursued by the Moon Jae-in administration in retaliation for the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, who committed suicide after being investigated for corruption after leaving office in 2008.

Lee is accused of taking about 11.1 billion won in bribes from the National Intelligence Service, the former head of a state-owned bank and Samsung Electronics. About half the money, 6.5 billion won, allegedly came from Samsung to settle a lawsuit involving DAS, an auto parts company.

Given that seven out of the 16 charges Lee faces concern DAS, a conviction and the length of any sentence are believed to hinge on whether the court acknowledges long-held suspicions that Lee was the de facto owner of the company.

Prosecutors say Lee abused his powers as president to help the company and embezzled around 35 billion won from its coffers.

The charges against Lee are emblematic of a perennial problem in Korean politics: collusion with big business, even from the highest levels of office.

In early 2009, Samsung Electronics allegedly paid DAS’s legal fees in the United States for a trial DAS was embroiled in, allegedly in exchange for a pardon for its chairman, Lee Kun-hee, who was found guilty in July 2008 of operating a slush fund to bribe influential prosecutors, judges and politicians.

Lee Kun-hee was pardoned by Lee Myung-bak in December 2009 after serving only four months in jail.

Prosecutors say the transaction proves DAS was effectively owned by the president and used to funnel such money for his political and personal activities.

Whatever the verdict on Friday, Lee and his lawyers are expected to appeal.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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