Blue House to jail house: South Korea's criminal precedents

Blue House to jail house: South Korea's criminal precedents

South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison -- or meet untimely ends -- after their
South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison - or meet untimely ends - after their time in power, usually once their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House. (Photo: AFP/Kim Hong-ji)

SEOUL: Most former South Korean presidents of recent decades have had their retirements interrupted - or terminated - by legal troubles.

Wednesday's (Mar 14) interrogation of Lee Myung-bak, who occupied the presidential Blue House from 2008 to 2013, means that every living former head of state has now been convicted, charged or investigated for criminal offences. One even killed himself after being questioned.

Here are details of their cases.


Chun, a former army general who ruled from 1980 to 1988, served prison time in the 1990s for charges including treason and bribery.

Chun was convicted of staging a military coup in 1979 to seize power after the death of longtime army dictator, Park Chung-hee, and of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars from local businessmen.

Now 87, he was initially sentenced to death, before the penalty was commuted to life in prison by the country's highest court in 1997.

He was released eight months later when the then president Kim Young-sam pardoned him.


Roh, Chun's successor who served from 1988 to 1993 and also a former general, was convicted of similar offences, including both treason and bribery, at the same trial.

He was initially sentenced to life in prison, reduced to 17 years on appeal.

Now 85, Roh also received a presidential pardon and walked free on the same day as Chun in 1997, albeit from a different prison.

The perils of South Korean leadership
(Graphic: AFP/John Saeki)


Roh, a liberal who served from 1998 to 2003, killed himself in 2009 while being probed over graft.

A former human rights lawyer and the mentor of current president Moon Jae-in, he enjoyed huge popularity among liberal young voters.

But the graft probe targeting him as well as his family - described by Roh's supporters as a politically motivated move orchestrated by Lee Myung-bak, who was president at the time - tarnished the reputation of the former leader whose role model was former US president Abraham Lincoln.

Roh threw himself off a cliff three weeks after his interrogation by prosecutors.

Moon, who had served as his chief of staff, later said that the shock suicide prompted him to seek elected office himself.


Park, 66, was impeached last year amid a massive corruption scandal involving her secret confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and is currently being tried on dozens of charges ranging from abuse of power to corruption.

Park is accused of offering policy favours to top businessmen who helped enrich Choi including Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.

Park is the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee, and Choi's father, a shady religious figure, acted as her mentor until his death in 1994.

The ousted president is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, handle state affairs including cabinet nominations and policy and even her daily wardrobe choice.

The verdict is due in April, and prosecutors have sought a 30-year jail sentence.

Source: AFP/zl