Roh Moo-hyun: mountain fall

The former president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, who had been under investigation for alleged corruption, has apparently committed suicide.

Roh (62) appeared to have jumped into a ravine while mountain climbing near his home and had left a brief suicide note, according to a spokesman.

Last month, Roh apologised over allegations his family took $6m (€4.29m) in bribes during his 2003-2008 term. He never admitted wrongdoing, but said he was sorry for disappointing people.

In a statement read live on national radio and television, Roh's former chief of staff, Moon Jae-in, said the former president had left a suicide note.

"Roh left his house [early on Saturday morning] and while hiking on the Bonghwa Mountain, appears to have jumped off a rock," he said.

"He left a short suicide note addressed to his family members."

Roh described his life as "difficult" and apologised for making "too many people suffer", according to local media.

"Don't be too sad. Isn't life and death all part of nature? Don't be sorry.

"Please cremate me. And please leave a small tombstone near home. I've long thought about that."

Police said the former president had fallen 30m down a mountain near his hometown of Gimhae and had been transported to Busan hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Hospital officials later said he had died from massive head injuries.

The apparent suicide – believed to be the first by a modern South Korean leader – has shocked the nation.

"This is a truly unbelievable, lamentable and deeply sad event," president Lee Myung-bak, Roh's successor, said.

Lee, who was told of the death while holding talks with Czech president Vaclav Klaus, told ministers to prepare Roh's funeral with "respect and in line with the protocol for a former president".

Roh's predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, said he had lost his "life-long companion, with whom I took part in struggles for democracy and shared 10 years of a democratic government".

"Allegations concerning his family members have been leaked to the press every day," Kim said. "He was probably unable to bear the pressure and tensions any longer. My heart goes out to his family."

A human rights lawyer, Roh took office in 2003 vowing to fight corruption, but correspondents say his term was a rollercoaster ride, with his Uri party hit by scandal and in-fighting.

He was suspended early in 2004 after parliament voted to impeach him over a breach of election rules, but the
constitutional court later overturned the move and he was reinstated.

Last month, Roh was questioned over allegations that he had taken more than $6m in bribes from a wealthy shoe manufacturer, Park Yeon-cha, who was indicted in December on separate bribery and tax evasion charges.

The former president later apologised for the scandal.