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Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of S. Korea Ex-President

<i> From Associated Press</i>

After grilling former South Korean President Roh Tae Woo for 20 hours, government prosecutors asked a judge today for a warrant to arrest him on corruption charges.

Roh has admitted amassing a $653-million political slush fund during his 1988-93 term. The monthlong scandal has already involved the nation’s leading businesses and threatens to topple top politicians.

The request for an arrest warrant marks the first time prosecutors have gone after a former South Korean president for actions committed while in office. Court officials said they expected the warrant to be issued “without any problem,” most likely today.

Roh would then be arrested immediately. The Seoul Detention House was reported to be preparing for his arrival by clearing cells and arranging guard duty.

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If charged and convicted of corruption, he could face 10 years to life in prison.

Roh was summoned Wednesday for a second round of questioning in a little more than two weeks in connection with the worst slush-fund scandal in Korean history.

Also Wednesday, chief investigator Ahn Kang Min said the ex-president was allegedly found to have used $42 million from his slush fund to help his relatives buy buildings.

Local newspapers, quoting unnamed sources, said half a dozen people, including two relatives of Roh, could also be arrested in connection with the case.

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Roh has admitted taking money from businesses, claiming they were making donations. But prosecutors said they have obtained evidence of bribery.

Roh is also suspected of having diverted some of his ill-gotten money to secret Swiss bank accounts. Prime Minister Lee Hong Koo said a formal request is being made for the Swiss government’s cooperation in investigating the allegations.

Roh’s summons followed three weeks of questioning by prosecutors of nearly 40 top business people who allegedly contributed money to the ex-president’s slush fund.

The scandal broke Oct. 19, when an opposition legislator disclosed one of Roh’s secret bank accounts. Under pressure, Roh was forced to admit that he had collected $653 million from businesses during his five-year term and left $230 million in secret bank accounts.

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It is unclear whether Roh’s arrest would be the final chapter in the scandal. There are strong allegations that some of his money went to politicians, both in government and from the opposition.

Top opposition leader Kim Dae Jung has admitted he received $2.5 million from Roh for his unsuccessful 1992 presidential campaign, seriously tarnishing his image.

He has claimed that Roh funneled considerably more money into President Kim Young Sam’s successful 1992 campaign. Kim has denied the charges.

Since taking office in early 1993, Kim--the first president in more than 30 years without a military background--has carried out wide reforms aimed at rooting out corruption.

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By becoming the first former president called in for questioning, Roh already had joined a long line of disgraced former presidents.

Syngman Rhee, South Korea’s founding president, was toppled in 1960 in a nationwide pro-democracy student uprising protesting widespread election fraud.

Longtime military-backed President Park Chung Hee was assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979.


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