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South Korea constitutional court approves fraud probe of president-elect

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Korea [official website, in Korean] on Thursday approved a special investigation of South Korean President-elect Lee Myung-bak [official website] over fraud allegations [AFP report] relating to stock price-rigging by a former business partner. Lee, who takes office on February 25, is now subject to a 40-day investigation set to begin next week. The conservative former Seoul mayor has denied the allegations, but promised to resign from the presidency if the investigation reveals any wrongdoing. The court, ruling on a petition filed last month by Lee's relatives and former business partners to halt the investigation, found that only one clause in the law authorizing the probe violated the South Korean Constitution [text]. The court explained that if investigators did not invoke that particular clause, which allowed investigators to arrest witnesses without a warrant, then the investigation could continue.

South Korea [JURIST news archive] grants immunity to sitting presidents for all criminal lawsuits outside of very serious crimes. It is unlikely that Lee would be convicted and exhaust all appeals before he takes office next month and receives a grant of immunity for the fraud allegations. Lee won a landslide victory [BBC report] in South Korea's presidential election last month, despite the fraud claims. AP has more. The Korea Times has local coverage.

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