Former President Lee Myung-bak was sued on Tuesday by a local civic group for long-raised suspicions of conducting irregularities during the course of pushing for his now-scrapped retirement pension project.
The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said it lodged an accusation with Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office against Lee for breach of duty and abuse of authority, claiming he is suspected of playing a key role in the fraud-ridden project.
Lee left the office on Feb. 25 upon the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye.
There have been allegations that Lee’s only son, Si-hyung, and the Presidential Security Service used public funds and violated real estate laws when they jointly bought a plot of land in 2011 for the retirement residence, which was to be built in Naegok-dong on the southern edge of Seoul. The cost was allegedly not shared evenly, with the presidential entity paying too much for the site for security facilities.
After a month-long investigation into a series of the allegations, independent counsel Lee Kwang-bum brought charges against three former presidential officials for breach of trust by letting young Lee buy the site at a below-market price to make a profit.
While the team referred Si-hyung to tax authorities for possible evasion of gift tax, it stopped short of indicting him, citing insufficient proof. Former first lady Kim Yoon-ok, who handed in a written statement over her alleged role in the scandal, also been cleared of all charges.
“Former President Lee is suspected of instructing presidential officials to conduct malpractices that could cause damage to the national budget while purchasing the land, or at least he turned a blind eye to such behaviors,” the civic group said in a statement.
The special investigation found that Lee had been debriefed about the land purchasing process at least three times, and ordered the officials to buy the land under his son’s name, according to the civic group.
It also argued that Lee abused his authority as president by ordering the PSS to care for his personal businesses. The PSS is supposed to be in charge of buying land for security facilities, not retirement homes or other personal properties.
“Despite the special team finding evidence that Lee was involved in a fraud-ridden project, he was not subject to investigation thanks to the presidential immunity from criminal prosecution,” it added.
By law, an incumbent president is immune from criminal charges while in office, unless those crimes relate to rebellion or foreign exchange.
The civic group also sued former first lady Kim and young Lee for violating the real estate law, while bringing additional charges of violating the tax evaders’ act to the young Lee for trying to dodge the gift tax while borrowing 600 million won ($542,000) in cash from Lee Sang-eun, his father-in-law and the elder brother of former President Lee, for the retirement home project. (Yonhap News)