May 23, 2009 in Nation/World

Ex-South Korean president dies in apparent suicide

Kwang-Tae Kim Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A supporter of former President Roh Moo-hyun holding a cartoon cutout of Roh, right, and his wife, Kwon Yang-sook, weeps near the Rohs’ home in Gimhae, South Korea, today.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SEOUL, South Korea – Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, embroiled in a broadening corruption scandal, jumped to his death today while hiking in the mountains behind his rural southern home, his lawyer said. He was 62.

Roh had been hiking in the village of Bongha when he threw himself off a mountainside rock, lawyer Moon Jae-in told reporters. In a suicide note left for his family, Roh called life “difficult” and apologized for making “too many people suffer,” a TV report said.

Roh was rushed to a hospital in the nearby port city of Busan, where he died from head injuries, officials at Busan National University hospital said.

The apparent suicide – the first by a modern South Korean leader – shocked the nation.

President Lee Myung-bak said the news was “truly hard to believe” and called Roh’s death “sad and tragic,” presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer who served as president from 2003 to 2008, prided himself on being a “clean” politician in a country with a long history of corruption.

But he and his family have been ensnared in recent weeks in a burgeoning bribery scandal.

Last month, state prosecutors questioned Roh for some 13 hours about allegations that he accepted more than $6 million in bribes from a detained South Korean businessman while in office – accusations that deeply shamed him.

“I have no face to show to the people. I am sorry for disappointing you,” an emotional-looking Roh said April 30 before undergoing questioning by prosecutors.

Roh acknowledged that his wife took $1 million from Park Yeon-cha, head of a local shoe manufacturer, but suggested it was not a bribe. He also said he was aware that Park gave another $5 million to a relative but said he thought it was an investment. Prosecutors suspect the $6 million eventually was conveyed to Roh.

Several of Roh’s former aides and associates also have been investigated on suspicion of taking money from Park, who was indicted in December on separate bribery and tax evasion charges.

Roh denied the allegations against him during questioning, prosecution spokesman Cho Eun-sok said.

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