SEOUL, March 14 (Reuters) - Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak appeared for questioning on Wednesday over allegations he took bribes when he was in office, following months of investigations into his family and acquaintances over the graft charges.
Lee made his way before hundreds of reporters waiting outside the prosecutors' office to ask him questions in the latest top-level political corruption scandal to rock the country.
"I stand before you today with a tragic heart. I offer my deepest apology to the people for causing worry amid times when the economy is in hardship and the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula is serious," Lee said.
"I have much to say as a former president, but I keep telling myself I should refrain from saying much," he added.
Lee faces almost 20 charges and the prosecution believe he took around 11 billion won unlawfully from a number of institutions and individuals including the country's National Intelligence Service and Samsung Group.
Prosecutors last month sought a 30-year jail term for former president Park Geun-hye, Lee's successor, who was ousted last year amid an influence-peddling scandal and is standing trial on charges of bribery, abuse of power and coercion.
Lee has denied any wrongdoing, calling the investigation into the bribery allegations politically motivated by prosecutors under the incumbent liberal administration. The former president was in office from 2008 to 2013 before his successor, Park, won her presidency.
Last month, Seoul prosecutors searched the offices of Samsung Electronics as part of the investigation, the prosecutors' office said.
They were looking for possible evidence that Samsung provided financial support in litigation fees for an auto parts maker called DAS, run by Lee's family and allegedly controlled by him, the prosecutors' office said. Samsung has offered no official comment on the matter.
Lee has said DAS is run by his elder brother, Lee Sang-eun.
The heir to parent Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, was freed last month with a suspended jail sentence on bribery and embezzlement charges linked to the Park corruption case. (Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)