SEOUL, South Korea — President Lee Myung-bak apologized on Tuesday for a string of corruption scandals implicating his relatives and allies that have undermined his last year in office.
Mr. Lee’s nationally televised apology came two weeks after the arrest of his elder brother, Lee Sang-deuk, on bribery charges. Hours after the president bowed before television cameras on Tuesday, two of his former aides were arrested on bribery charges, joining a growing list of Mr. Lee’s acquaintances who have been jailed on suspicion of corruption.
Mr. Lee, whose term ends in February, said in his address that he was so ashamed he could hardly lift his face.
“The more I think about it, the more it crushes my heart,” he said. “But whom can I blame now? It’s all because of my negligence.
“I bow before the people in apology,” he said.
It was a humiliating moment for a leader who had once characterized his own government as “morally perfect.” Mr. Lee offered a similar apology in January, during his customary New Year’s speech, when it had become evident that he would be the latest in a series of South Korean presidents to be politically damaged by corruption scandals.
So far, a score of people considered close to Mr. Lee have been indicted or convicted on corruption charges. They include three relatives, four senior presidential aides and several former senior officials in the cabinet and government-run companies. Mr. Lee himself has not been implicated in any of the scandals.
The president’s brother, a former lawmaker, has been charged with accepting bribes from two bankers. Prosecutors said the bankers asked him to help prevent regulators from shutting down their banks. The bankers have been charged with embezzlement and bribery, and their banks’ operations have been suspended.
Analysts who have studied South Korea’s recurring corruption scandals have argued that political leaders’ intimates, like friends, relatives and people with school connections, have long influenced the appointment of top posts in police, prosecution and government intelligence agencies. Over the years, this has contributed to a climate of negligence where corruption is concerned, these analysts said.