SEOUL - Former President Roh Moo-hyun was questioned by prosecutors Thursday over a bribery scandal, the latest in a long line of South Korean ex-leaders to face accusations of financial wrongdoing while in office.
But analysts said the damage to the left-of-centre former president does not help his conservative successor, whose struggle to push reforms through the National Assembly took another hit when his ruling party lost all of Wednesday's five by-elections to liberal opponents.
The summons marks a dramatic fall for the former lawyer who, though seen as an ineffective president, had been seen as the country's first to have run a clean government and be free of personal impropriety.
It also perpetuates the stigma of corruption that has long hung over Asia's fourth largest economy, though analysts say the level of graft in politics and business has become far less pervasive in the past decade.
"I am sorry I have disappointed you," Roh said in brief televised comments before he boarded a bus provided by presidential security for the five-hour drive from his newly built home in the countryside to Seoul, trailed by TV helicopters.
Hundreds of supporters lined the street waving scarves and balloons in Roh's trademark yellow and chanted his name as the bus pulled away from his hometown.
A smaller group of supporters and a similar number of right-wing group members greeted his arrival at the prosecutors' office in Seoul, outnumbered by police and reporters.
Roh has admitted that his wife took 670,000 pounds from a shoe company executive while he was in office, but claimed he was not aware of the transaction at the time so there is no basis for a bribery case against him.
But some of his aides, supporters and a brother have been arrested and face various corruption charges. His son also has been questioned over a questionable investment by the shoe company executive.
Roh's summons, coming a day after parliamentary by-elections to fill five seats, is unlikely to hurt the opposition Democratic Party, which picked up a seat in a hard-fought battle near Seoul against the ruling Grand National Party (GNP).
The conservative GNP suffered a shut-out and looks set to slide into disarray as the party debates in the closing days of the parliamentary session whether the leadership should take responsibility for its defeat
The ruling party has largely failed to using its year-old majority in the assembly or strike political compromises to pass sweeping reforms that Lee's government says are vital to revive the economy.
The government announced Thursday that industrial output rose higher than the market expected -- another sign that the economy may avert a recession this year.