South Korean President Lee Myung-bak yesterday apologized to the nation for what he called heartbreaking corruption cases allegedly involving his elder brother and close aides.
“I bow my head and apologize for causing concern to the people due to these incidents,” a solemn Lee said in brief televised remarks. “It breaks my heart ... that such regrettable things have happened among people so close to me.”
The incidents have tarnished the conservative leader’s image in the last year of his five-year term, although he has not been personally implicated in them.
A presidential election will be held in December, but Lee is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term. Analysts said the graft cases would have only a limited effect on the electoral fortunes of his New Frontier Party.
“This wouldn’t have any significant impact on the election, because the party has distanced itself from the president, as if they are not related to each other at all,” said Lee Junhan, a professor at Incheon University.
The president’s elder brother, Lee Sang-deuk, was arrested and detained earlier this month pending a corruption trial.
Prosecutors allege the 76-year-old former lawmaker took 600 million won (US$525,000) from chairmen of two troubled savings banks between 2007 and last year in return for helping them avoid audits and punishment.
Angry bank depositors had hurled eggs at him when he arrived at court the previous day for questioning.
Lee Sang-deuk was seen as the main contributor to his brother’s election victory in 2007, playing the role of a troubleshooter behind the scenes. However, critics said he tried to wield too much influence over state affairs once his brother came to power.
Several of the president’s closest aides, including a former top communications official Choi See-jung, a former vice culture minister Shin Jae-min and an ex-knowledge economy vice minister Park Young-joon, have also been arrested on graft charges.