Eco-groups charge ex-president Lee over river project

SEOUL, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) -- Environmental groups said Tuesday they have filed a complaint with the prosecution against former President Lee Myung-bak and dozens of his former officials over alleged irregularities found in his big-budget project to refurbish the country's four major rivers.

The 22.2 trillion won (US$19.5 billion) project to refurbish the four rivers -- the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan -- was one of the former Lee Myung-bak administration's trademark projects, aimed at preventing floods and enhancing the nation's overall water management.

In July, however, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) said the former government, which finished its five-year term in February, carried out the project with a controversial canal plan in mind, resulting in bid rigging and increased costs.

"The accused pressed ahead with the grand canal project opposed by the people, disguising it as a four rivers project and caused bid rigging by large construction firms in the process," said the groups led by a civilian investigative committee on the four rivers project.

Environmentalists have opposed the river refurbishment project from the start due to its possible adverse effect on the environment.

Also among the accused were 57 former heads of related Cabinet ministries and agencies and key officials who led the project at the land development ministry.

The two groups claimed that those responsible should face breach of trust charges as they "inflicted 22 trillion won in losses to the state and gave the same amount of gains to construction firms that participated in the project."

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