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Former S. Korea’s leader Lee Myung-bak offers no apology in final moments before incarceration

Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak appears for his first trial at the Seoul Central District Court on May 23, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY IMAGES. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Nov 3, 2020, Hankyoreh. At 12 pm on Nov. 2, a citizen stood outside the residence of former President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul’s Gangnam District shouting “Apologize, Lee Myung-bak!” The cry stood in stark contrast to the sound of hymns emanating from within the house. The melody of hymns floated outside the walls of the residence alongside prayers for “Elder Lee Myung-bak,” Hankyoreh reported.

One member of the Somang Presbyterian Church told reporters that “Elder Lee looked full of life” as he came out of the house. Lee also reportedly told close associates he met with to “not worry too much.” Lee has refused to apologize. After being sentenced to 17 years in prison by the Supreme Court for crimes including embezzlement and receiving bribes, Lee was taken back to Seoul Dongbu Detention Center in the city’s Songpa District on the afternoon of Nov. 2.

This comes 251 days after he was released when the Seoul High Court issued a stay of execution on his detention on Feb. 25. Lee was transported to the detention center in a car with heavily tinted windows, and did not make a public statement. The only communication came through his lawyer, Kang Hun, who passed on the message: “I will come back after serving my sentence. I will overcome this through the belief that even though they can imprison me, the truth cannot be confined.”

There was a raucous scene in front of Lee’s residence, with 50 or so journalists interspersed with supporters of Lee and YouTubers and protesters demanding an apology from the former president. One YouTuber who appeared to be in his 50s had been there since 7 am to hold a protest “demanding that Lee apologizes to the people.” “He shouldn’t get a spacious private cell without making a public apology,” the man said, raising his voice as he spoke. “Lee should apologize to the people. His absurd remark that ‘the rule of law is dead’ is deeply concerning.”

Another YouTuber in his early 30s was stopped by police when he attempted to hang a ribbon saying “Congratulations on your incarceration, Lee Myung-bak” in a tree opposite Lee’s house. On the other hand, a dozen or so supporters of the former president continued to shout the slogan “We prospered [economically] during the Lee Myung-bak era.” Two police squads were deployed to the scene, with 150 or so officers on duty to deal with any potential trouble.

“We didn’t talk politics,” People Power Party (PPP) lawmaker Chang Je-won told reporters after meeting with Lee at 1 pm. “He simply greeted his associates, asked about their health and told them not to worry. He also said he was very worried about the country.” Lee was visited by several PPP lawmakers including Chang, Kweon Seongdong and Cho Haejin, as well as former Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo and former Minister of Culture and Tourism Yu In-chon.

Lee arrived at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office at around 2 pm, shortly after leaving his house at 1:46 pm. After prosecutors completed procedures such as confirming Lee’s identity and informing him of the execution of his sentence, Lee waited 10 minutes before being taken to Seoul Dongbu Detention Center. It is believed that he will be detained in a solitary cell measuring 13.07 square meters. This is slightly larger than the single room that former President Park Geun-hye is detained in at Seoul Detention Center.

A cell that usually holds three to six prisoners was remodeled and fitted with a television set, sink and attached bathroom in order to offer respectful treatment to the former president. It is typical for convicted criminals to spend some time in a detention center before being transferred to prison.

However, it is possible that Lee will serve his sentence at the detention center without being transferred due to his advanced age and status as a former president. Lee will spend 16 years behind bars, with the year he has already spent in detention subtracted from his sentence.

He will be 95 by the time of his release in 2036. Of course, an earlier release is possible. A stay of execution could be issued if his health deteriorates, and he will become eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence. The only way in which he could receive an unconditional release is through a presidential pardon.

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