South Korean Ex-President Jumps To His Death

South Koreans are expressing shock and disbelief over the apparent suicide of a former president. Roh Moo-Hyun jumped to his death early Saturday.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, we'll go to southern Helmand Province in Afghanistan, where U.S. Special Forces have destroyed tons of heroin and processing materials.

But first, South Koreans are shocked today by the sudden death of former President Roh Moo-hyun. The 62-year-old man apparently jumped off a mountainside cliff in his hometown and died of massive head injuries. Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao joins us from Seoul.

Doualy, thanks for being with us.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: How does a former president - who I gather has bodyguards - commit suicide?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, police are still officially investigating the death. But we have learned that former President Rho went hiking with a bodyguard early Saturday morning in the mountains, just behind his residence in the southern region of the country.

Now, after hiking a bit, Rho reportedly asked the bodyguard for a cigarette, and it was then that police say he jumped off the cliff, just after 6:30 a.m. local time. The family's lawyer and police say a suicide note was left behind. That note appeared to be saved on President Roh's computer an hour before his death. It's already being circulated in the media. I was actually sent a copy of it myself.

One of the lines in it reads "The rest of my life will be nothing but burden to others. It's a surprising end for Roh Moo-hyun, who was born to a poor family, had no college education, was a self-taught human rights lawyer, and served as South Korea's president from 2003 until last February.

SIMON: And of course he was elected as a reformer. And at the time of his death he was being investigated for accepting about $6 million in bribes while he was in office from 2003 to 2008. He - well, he was mortified and then some, although he never quite said he was guilty.

XAYKAOTHAO: That's right. He denied all the allegations. But you know, it's important to understand that in South Korea prosecutors here pay a great attention to public opinion. And the fact is right now there's a lot of sympathy from the public for Roh, because people here are saying there have been worse cases of corruption in South Korea involving much more than the $6 million in question. For example, former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-Wood were both convicted about 12 years ago of receiving bribes worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But you know, back to Rho - basically the country's justice minister announced earlier today that the investigation into Roh Moo-hyun alleged corruption will be closed because of his death. And the timing of Roh's death also prevented prosecutors from questioning his wife in the case, because she was supposed to be called in for questioning this very weekend.

SIMON: Doualy Xaykaothao reporting from Seoul.

Doualy, thanks very much.

XAYKAOTHAO: Thanks, Scott.

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