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South Korean Ex-President Questioned in Bribery Case


South Korean prosecutors were expected to question the country's previous president until late into the night Thursday about his possible involvement in bribery. The investigation of former President Roh Moo-hyun is reminiscent of the high-level corruption trials in South Korea's recent past.

Television news broadcasts provided near constant updates of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's long chartered bus journey Thursday from his rural home to the capital for questioning by prosecutors.

Mr. Roh told reporters he was embarrassed to have to testify in a case involving bribery and corruption allegations.

He says he has no face to show to the people, and is sorry for disappointing them.

Mr. Roh occupied the presidential Blue House in Seoul from 2003 to 2008, having won his election mainly on a platform of running a clean government. However, he and family members now stand accused of having accepted up to $6 million in slush fund money from a business executive.

The former president has admitted his wife took about $1 million from Park Yeon-cha, head of a shoe company. However, he describes that money as a loan. Mr. Roh's son and a nephew-in-law are believed to have accepted about $5 million from Park. Park was arrested last year for tax evasion and graft.

Prosecutors say they are asking the former president several hundred questions to determine whether the money in question made its way to him for personal use.

He does not face any formal charges yet, but could be indicted depending on the outcome of the testimony. His very public ordeal calls to mind painful memories for many South Koreans of two past presidents convicted for accepting massive political contributions.

Former Presidents Chun Do-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were brought before prosecutors in 1995, and sent to prison for accepting hundreds of millions of dollars from private business interests to fund political campaigns. They were later pardoned.

Choe Chi-won, a political science professor at Seoul's Korea University, says the questioning has deep political significance for Roh Moo-hyun and his followers.

He says Mr. Roh was a symbol for the so-called "386" generation - a younger political class that was born in the 60s, entered university in the 80s, and were in their 30s when he was president. He says they are the generation that often associates themselves with the struggle for morality in South Korean politics - and their image stands to be damaged along with Mr. Roh's.

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