Former South Korean prez in apparent suicide

SEOUL: Former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun, who was at the centre of a multi-million dollar corruption probe, plunged to his death off a mountainside today in an apparent suicide.

Police said they were investigating whether Roh, who held office from 2003-2008, killed himself. A former aide said Roh jumped off a cliff after leaving a suicide note. Roh, 62, had left home around dawn with a bodyguard and climbed a mountain near his retirement village of Bongha.

“He jumped off a rock in the mountain at 6:40 am (2140 GMT Friday),” former chief presidential secretary Moon Jae-In told journalists. “He left a short suicide note addressed to his family.”

Police in Gyeongsangnam province confirmed a suicide note was found on Roh’s computer at his home.

A hospital in the southern city of Busan said he was pronounced dead from massive head injuries at 9:30 am.

“It has been so tough,” local media quoted the suicide note as saying. “I caused so much trouble to many people. “Please cremate my body. Please erect a small tombstone for me at the village.”

A shocked President Lee Myung-Bak described the death as a national tragedy. “It is truly hard to believe what happened. It is a sad, tragic incident,” he was quoted by his spokesman as saying.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer, was credited with making his nation more democratic and less authoritarian.

He also doggedly pursued reconciliation with communist North Korea despite its 2006 nuclear and missile tests, holding a landmark summit with leader Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang in 2007.

Critics said the South gave the North too much for too little in return. A relatively sluggish economic performance, high youth unemployment and soaring property prices also undermined Roh’s popularity.

And Roh’s reputation as a clean leader was tarnished when he was questioned last month as a suspect in the corruption probe — the third former leader to be quizzed on graft charges after leaving office.

The investigation centred around a payment worth one million dollars to Roh’s wife from a wealthy shoe manufacturer, and a payment by the same man worth five million dollars to the husband of one of Roh’s nieces. Prosecutors said they were considering issuing an arrest warrant.

Roh had apologised for his family’s involvement in the case but had not admitted personal wrongdoing. “I feel ashamed before my fellow citizens,” he said at the time. “I am sorry to have disappointed you.”

Kim Dae-Jung, Roh’s predecessor as president, expressed “great shock and sorrow,” according to an aide.