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South Korean Investigators Clear President-Elect of Fraud Charges


Independent investigators have cleared South Korea's president-elect of fraud and stock manipulation allegations. Lee Myung-bak has been relieved of what could have been a serious obstacle to his administration just days before he is to assume the South Korean presidency. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean President-elect Lee Myung-bak's political rivals have insisted for months he made millions of dollars using fraudulent financial practices. On Friday, independent investigators closed the book on those accusations once and for all.

Chung Ho-young, spokesman for the special counsel, told a nationally televised news conference Lee was not involved in stock price manipulation.

Lee's political rivals tried hard to draw attention to the accusations during December's presidential election campaign. They pointed to Lee's alleged involvement with a U.S. financial services company called BBK.

Lee, who is scheduled to be sworn in as president Monday, has denied the charges, saying he had no connection to BBK. Chung says investigators agree.

He says the independent counsel has concluded the president-elect has no involvement in BBK.

Lee's transition team officials say the president-elect describes the announcement as "fortunate," and he says it will let him get to the business of reviving South Korea's economy. Members of the United New Democratic Party, Lee's main political opposition, say they are "disappointed" the probe failed to clear up public suspicions.

Federal prosecutors formally cleared Lee of charges several weeks before December's election, which Lee went on to win by a resounding margin. However, Lee's opponents proposed an independent probe when a video surfaced just days before the vote showing Lee talking about having founded BBK.

Lee's campaign said that video was taken out of context, but incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun approved the investigation. Lee then became the first president-elect in South Korean history to undergo a criminal investigation.

Even if investigators had uncovered guilt on Lee's part, he would still have been permitted to take office. However, experts say his ability to accomplish political goals would have been hobbled.

Many average South Koreans say they doubt Lee is completely innocent of the accusations. However, they add Lee probably won the election not for being a squeaky clean politician, but rather for his strong economic credentials and track record of seeing projects through to completion.

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