Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s former president; photo by SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

 

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has been tied to a corruption case in South Korea that has led to the nation’s prosecutors seeking to arrest a former president.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office requested an arrest warrant on Monday for Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president from 2008 to 2013, for corruption, according to local media reports. The prosecution has been investigating an old case involving Korean conglomerate Samsung Group, Akin Gump, and an auto parts manufacturer owned by Lee Myung-bak’s older brother.

The case resurfaced in February when former Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Hak-soo confessed that his company helped pay $3.7 million in legal fees to Akin Gump for the U.S. law firm’s work done on behalf of DAS, a car parts maker that the prosecution believed was actually controlled by Lee Myung-bak instead of its listed owner, Lee Sang-eun, the former president’s brother.

DAS reportedly hired Akin Gump in 2009 to sue in U.S. courts to recover $18 million worth of investment lost to a Korean-American businessman, Christopher Kim Kyung-joon, whose investment firm BBK was found to be a fraud. Kim alleged that then-presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak was a partner and beneficiary of the fraud, but Lee was cleared of any wrongdoing by independent counsel after he was elected president. DAS successfully recovered the money in 2011.

According to the Seoul-based English-language daily The Korea Herald, Lee Hak-soo said in a statement that Samsung was pressured by members of the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2009 to pay for Akin Gump’s services, and in return Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee, who had been found guilty of, among other things, embezzlement and tax evasion, would be granted a presidential pardon.

Samsung is a longtime client of Akin Gump. In 2014, the Korean company reportedly paid the U.S. firm $1 million just in lobbying fees. The Washington, D.C.-based firm, which reported double-digit gains in profits per partner in 2017, also represents Samsung on patent litigation and anti-dumping investigations in the U.S.

The newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily also reported that former President Lee Myung-bak held multiple meetings in Cheong Wa Dae with former Akin Gump partner Sukhan Kim in 2009. Kim, who was based in Washington, D.C., left Akin Gump for Arnold & Porter in 2015.

Akin Gump declined to comment.

The Seoul Central District Court will review the prosecution’s request to arrest Lee Myung-bak and possibly summon the former president for questioning later this week.

Lee Myung-bak, who has denied any knowledge or involvement in the case, has called the investigations “political retaliation” orchestrated by President Moon Jae-in, a liberal, against him and other political conservatives.

Moon, who took office in 2017, was a former human rights lawyer and a top aide and close friend to the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh, also a human rights lawyer and Korea’s president from 2003 to 2008, committed suicide in 2009 after being questioned by prosecutors concerning allegations of corruption.

Moon dismissed the accusations and called Lee Myung-bak’s remarks an insult to his government and Korea’s legal system.