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Arrest warrant issued for S.Korea ex president Lee on graft charges

SEOUL, March 23 (Reuters) - A South Korean court issued an arrest warrant on Thursday night for former president Lee Myung-bak over allegations he took bribes when he was in office, in the latest top-level political corruption scandal to rock the country.

Lee was grilled by prosecutors earlier this month over nearly 20 charges he faces that involve suspicions he took around 11 billion won ($10.28 million) unlawfully from a number of institutions and individuals including the country's National Intelligence Service and Samsung Group.

He denies the charges.

A South Korean judge issued the arrest warrant, saying Lee could destroy evidence.

Once detained, Lee will become the country's fourth president to land behind bars. South Korea has seen a string of former presidents end up under investigation by prosecutors for corruption after leaving office.

Last year, Lee's successor ex-president Park Geun-hye was ousted from office for an influence-peddling scandal and is standing trial on charges of bribery, abuse of power and coercion. South Korean prosecutors are seeking a 30-year jail term for Park and a Seoul court will deliver a verdict in early April.

($1 = 1,070.3200 won) (Reporting by Christine Kim and Jane Chung Editing by Andrew Heavens)