Probe of Korea's President-Elect Opened Over Fraud Allegations

ReutersLee
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's president approved an independent probe Wednesday of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, over financial fraud allegations that have cast a cloud over the former Seoul mayor's landslide election win.

The unprecedented investigation into a president-elect was prompted by allegations from Lee's liberal rivals that he was directly involved in an investment firm at the center of an alleged stock manipulation case.

Lee has categorically denied the allegations. Prosecutors cleared him earlier this month of wrongdoing while indicting a Korean-American former business partner, who was extradited from the U.S. for allegedly spreading false information to boost stock prices and fleeing with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.

But liberals in the parliament accused the prosecution of bias and passed a bill just two days before last week's presidential vote calling for an independent counsel, after they released a 2000 video showing Lee bragging in a speech that he founded the firm involved. Lee has said the comments were taken out of context.

"There is a need to relieve the public suspicion," President Roh Moo-hyun, a liberal who is an ideological rival of Lee, said as he approved the bill at a Cabinet meeting, according to his office. Roh also noted that Lee said he would accept the special probe.

Lee, also a former Hyundai executive, said during the campaign that he would step down as president if found to have been involved in financial irregularities.

Still, Lee's conservative Grand National Party accused Roh of approving the special probe as a ploy to affect April parliamentary elections and claimed that the move was unconstitutional.