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S. Korean Presidential Frontrunner Faces Renewed Corruption Allegations


South Korea's legislature has voted to appoint an independent counsel to look into fraud allegations against front-running presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak. But, state prosecutors, who cleared Lee of formal charges weeks ago, refused a suggestion by current President Roh Moo-hyun to reopen the fraud investigation just two days before the vote. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports.

South Korea's Justice Ministry issued a statement Monday saying it would not reopen a prosecution probe into possible fraud and stock price manipulation by presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak.

Prosecutors announced earlier this month they had no case against Lee, helping solidify his double digit lead in opinion polls ahead of Wednesday's presidential election. However, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun urged prosecutors on Sunday to reopen their investigation, after Lee's political rivals released a videotape they say incriminates him.

In the video of a university speech in 2000, Lee describes how he founded an investment firm called BBK in the United States. His rivals got the video from an arrested suspect who attempted to blackmail Lee's party Sunday.

One of the central questions in the Lee investigation up to now has been how closely Lee was connected to the firm and a Korean-American partner who has been indicted in the United States. Lee has denied involvement with the firm. Lee's political opponents say his admission on tape proves he is a BBK cofounder who shares complicity in his partner's illicit activities, and is unfit to serve as president.

In a televised Sunday night debate, United New Democrat Party candidate Chung Dong-young said to Lee directly:

"Did you found BBK? Then you have no right to be sitting here."

Lee Myung-bak's independent rival, Lee Hoi-chang, says "How can a candidate who lies and evades the law expect to be the leader of our nation?"

Recent opinion surveys indicate Lee, the nominee for the conservative Grand National Party, enjoys a lead of at least 30 percentage points over both Chung and Lee Hoi-chang. As such, political experts say even these late developments are unlikely to deprive him of a decisive win when Wednesday's votes are counted.

Still, Lee says he has nothing to hide.

Lee says he feels no shame in relation to the BBK issue, and is willing to support the independent counsel probe.

South Korea's Parliament approved the independent counsel only after several days of physical brawling between members this weekend, with both sides trying to deny each other access to the speaker's podium.

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