South Korea's President Lee apologizes for graft scandal

SEOUL Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:52am EDT

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak bows to make an apology to the nation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Byong-man/Yonhap

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak bows to make an apology to the nation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul July 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Byong-man/Yonhap

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SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Lee Myung-bak issued a public apology on Tuesday for what he said was "unsavory" conduct by people close to him, two weeks after his brother was arrested in a graft scandal that also sent some of his closest aides to jail.

Lee's apology on live national TV, where he bowed deeply and said he had nobody to blame but himself, marked the latest blow to the political credibility of a leader who had vowed to clean up the corruption-prone image of South Korea's leadership.

"I bow my head in apology to the people for causing concern over these matter," Lee said.

"Who could I blame at this point? It is all my fault. I will willingly accept any rebuke."

Lee's brother, a long-time member of parliament, was taken into custody on July 11 one week after he appeared before prosecutors to answer questions about allegations that he took money from a failed savings bank in return for favors.

The scandal was part of a string of failed junior lenders, due to mismanagement, that caused thousands of mostly working class customers lose their savings that exceeded a 50 million won ($43,600) state deposit insurance.

The scandal also affected some of Lee's closest aides and political allies, speeding the routine slide to lameduck presidency in the final stages of a five-year single term.

Lee is set to leave office in February.

The controversy, and Lee's admission of a failure to prevent his aides and family from trying to benefit personally, is unlikely to affect the upcoming presidential election in December and the candidacy of the conservative frontrunner.

Park Geun-hye of Lee's New Frontier Party has distanced herself from the incumbent since his election victory in 2007 and is unlikely to face criticism for the sitting government's policy or ethical failures, analysts said.

($1 = 1146.6500 Korean won)

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

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