SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Embattled former President Roh
Moo-hyun - a reformist shamed by a corruption scandal that
tarnished his image as a "clean" politician - jumped to his death
while hiking in the mountains behind his rural home in southern
South Korea, his lawyer said. He was 62.
Roh was hiking in the village of Bongha when he threw himself
off a steep cliff around 6:40 a.m. Saturday (2340 GMT Friday),
lawyer Moon Jae-in told reporters in the city of Busan. In a
suicide note left for his family, Roh said life was "difficult"
and apologized for making "too many people suffer," a TV report
He was rushed to a hospital, where he was declared dead from a
head injury around 9:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), Busan National University
The apparent suicide - the first by a modern South Korean leader
- shocked the nation. South Koreans huddled around TV screens at
Seoul's main train station and elsewhere watching broadcasts of the
"I was utterly shocked," said Chun Soon-im, 63, of Seoul.
"They say 'hate the sin but not the sinner,' and that's how I
feel. The investigation must continue and we must get to the truth,
but I cannot help feeling sorry for the man and those left
Roh, a self-taught former human rights lawyer who lifted himself
out of poverty to reach the nation's highest office, prided himself
on his clean record in a country with a long history of corruption.
He served as president from 2003 to 2008.
But he and his family have been ensnared in recent weeks in a
burgeoning bribery scandal.
Last month, state prosecutors questioned Roh for some 13 hours
about allegations that he accepted more than $6 million in bribes
from a South Korean businessman while in office - accusations that
deeply shamed him.
"I have no face to show to the people. I am sorry for
disappointing you," an emotional Roh said April 30 before speaking
He denied the allegations against him during questioning,
prosecution spokesman Cho Eun-sok said.
Roh had acknowledged that local shoe manufacturer Park Yeon-cha
gave his wife $1 million, but suggested it was not a bribe. He also
said he was aware Park gave $5 million to another relative but said
he thought it was an investment. Prosecutors suspect the $6 million
was eventually conveyed to Roh.
Several of Roh's former aides and associates have also been
investigated on suspicion of taking money from Park, who was
indicted in December on separate bribery and tax evasion charges.
Roh's elder brother was sentenced last week to four years in prison
in a separate bribery scandal.
Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han, expressing "surprise and
grief," said in a statement that the monthslong investigation of
Roh would be closed.
President Lee Myung-bak called Roh's death "sad and tragic,"
and said it was "truly hard to believe," presidential spokesman
Lee Dong-kwan said.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, external relations commissioner for the
European Union, said an EU delegation was entering the presidential
Blue House for a summit with Lee when they heard the "very sad
Roh - who after leaving office moved back to his hometown of
Gimhae, some 280 miles (450 kilometers) south of Seoul - had gone
for an early walk in the mountains behind his house. He was
accompanied by a security guard, Busan police said.
Partway up, Roh hurled himself off a steep cliff known as Owl's
Rock about 400 feet (100 meters) high, the Yonhap news agency said.
Police said they were still investigating the circumstances of
His lawyer confirmed that Roh left a "brief" suicide note for
his family. Investigators have not seen the note, a Busan police
official said. He did not give his name, citing department policy.
MBC television reported that Roh's note said he wanted to be
cremated and a small gravestone erected in his neighborhood.
His death by apparent suicide was a tragic end for a man who was
the son of farmers and never attended college, but managed to pass
the bar exam in 1975 by teaching himself law.
Roh built a reputation as a lawyer defending students accused of
sedition under South Korea's previous military-backed
administrations. He was once arrested and his law license suspended
for supporting an outlawed labor protest.
His political career began with his election as a liberal
lawmaker to the National Assembly in 1988.
His ascension to the presidency came after a surprise 2002
election win on a campaign pledge not to "kowtow" to the United
States, a pledge that resonated with young voters.
He maintained predecessor President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine
policy" of offering North Korea aid as way to facilitate
reconciliation, holding a summit in Pyongyang with North Korean
leader Kim Jong Il in 2007, the second such meeting between leaders
of the two countries that technically remain at war.
Though criticized as standoffish and divisive by some, he was
praised by others as a candid leader who showed concern for the
underprivileged and fought against corruption. Roh was the first
South Korean president with an Internet-based fan club.
But in 2004, Roh called on the public to vote for candidates
from his Uri Party - a violation of political neutrality laws. The
move prompted lawmakers to vote for his impeachment, making him the
first South Korean president to be impeached. He was reinstated
following a two-month suspension after a court ruled against the
"He shocked us twice - first, by betraying our trust in him as
the keeper of justice when it was revealed that he'd received the
illegitimate money. Now, in showing that he was not even
responsible enough to face the consequences of his action," said
Kim Hye-jung, 35, of Seoul. "As a supporter of the values he stood
for, I feel greatly let down."
Roh is survived by his wife, Kwon Yang-sook, and two children.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.