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Prosecutors question former S. Korea president

SOUTH Korean prosecutors were questioning former president Roh Moo-hyun yesterday over his alleged involvement in a high-profile corruption scandal that has tarnished his image as a "clean" politician.

Roh, South Korea's president from 2003-2008, is accused of accepting millions in bribes from a Seoul businessman while in office. Prosecutors have questioned Roh's family members, including his wife and son, about allegations they accepted US$6 million from the man.

Roh has admitted his wife took US$1 million from Park Yeon-cha, head of a local shoe manufacturer, but suggested it was not a bribe. He also said he was aware that Park gave another US$5 million to a relative but thought it was merely an investment.

As he departed for Seoul from his hometown Gimhae, 350 kilometers southeast of Seoul, Roh apologized to the country for the scandal.

"I have no face to show to the people. I am sorry for disappointing you," an emotional-looking Roh said before bowing in front of cameras as his supporters shouted his name.

South Korean officials typically offer such apologies when implicated in allegations of wrongdoing but it does not necessarily mean they accept the claims as true.

Roh arrived by bus early yesterday afternoon for questioning, refusing to answer reporters' questions before going into the prosecutor's office. Questioning could have lasted late into the early hours of the morning.

Prosecutors have said they will try to determine whether the businessman's US$6 million was eventually conveyed to Roh.

South Korean law calls for a prison term of at least 10 years for a public servant convicted of receiving bribes in excess of 100 million won (US$74,800). It was not clear yesterday whether Roh will be arrested or indicted.

The scandal is a major blow for Roh, a former human rights lawyer and liberal politician who took office in 2003 as a reformist with a clean image in a country that has struggled to move past a traditional culture of corruption.

Several of his former aides and associates also have been investigated on suspicion of taking money from Park, who was indicted in December on separate bribery and tax evasion charges.

Roh's elder brother was also indicted in December for his alleged involvement in a separate bribery scandal.


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