Brother of South Korean president detained
SEOUL THE elder brother and mentor of President Lee Myungbak was arrested on bribery charges early on Wednesday, further weakening the political leverage of Lee, a lameduck leader already grappling with setbacks in both domestic politics and foreign policy.
With the arrest of his brother, Lee has become the latest in an uninterrupted series of South Korean presidents in recent decades to be disgraced by their own or their relatives’ corruption scandals.
The brother, Lee Sangdeuk, a 76-year-old former six-term lawmaker from the president’s party, was charged with taking 600 million won, or about $525,000, in bribes from two bankers.
Prosecutors said the bankers had asked Lee to help stop government regulators from shutting their savings banks down for lax oversight and capital shortages.
The bankers have been charged with embezzlement and bribery, and their banks’ operations have been suspended.
Lee’s detention came hours after he appeared before a judge deliberating whether to issue an arrest warrant.
Angry protesters at the court yanked at Lee’s tie and threw eggs at him but missed.
Lee did not respond to reporters’ questions, including whether he had used the purported bribes to help finance his brother’s election campaign in 2007.
Lee Sang-deuk played a crucial role in helping his younger brother, a wellknown business executive but a novice in party politics, win what was then the opposition party’s presidential nomination.
Despite years of efforts to clean up South Korea’s image, which has long been known as a place where bribes and political connections counted more than laws, the recent arrests of several of Lee’s closest acquaintances on corruption charges suggest that graft remains entrenched.
Lee’s immediate predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide in 2009 amid a corruption investigation of his family. ‘’The brother’s arrest is the most symbolic sign yet of President Lee having become a lame duck,” said Kang Won-taek, a professor of political science at Seoul National University. There was no immediate reaction from the president’s office.
South Korea is scheduled to elect Lee’s successor in December. By law, he cannot seek re-election, and presidential candidates from his party have been quick to distance themselves from him.
Lee exerted little power in selecting his governing party’s candidates for the April parliamentary elections.
Such power is the linchpin in a South Korean president’s control over his party.
Instead, the party’s campaign was organised and led by Park Geun-hye, who lost the party’s presidential nomination to Lee in 2007.
Park announced her second bid for party candidacy on Tuesday. Lee Sangdeuk’s arrest came days after the administration suffered a diplomatic embarrassment, being forced last week to put off the signing of a military cooperation pact with Japan.