Two of ousted President Park Geun-hye's intelligence chiefs were arrested early Friday for paying billions of won of the spy agency's funds to her aides at the presidential office during her term.
The Seoul Central District Court approved the arrest warrants for Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-kee, acknowledging the probable cause and need for their arrests as they may flee or destroy evidence.
However, the court refused to grant a writ against Lee Byong-ho, another former NIS director under Park, saying that it's hard to see the accused presents any risk of flight or destroying evidence.
Prosecutors questioned them this week and filed for the warrants on charges of bribery, loss of state funds and embezzlement. They headed the National Intelligence Service (NIS) between 2013 and 2017.
They stand accused of being involved in the NIS' regular payments of at least 40 billion won (US$3.63 million) to Ahn Bong-geun and Lee Jae-man, two senior secretaries to Park from 2013 to 2016.
Prosecutors suspect it was Nam who first initiated the agency into paying the aides with the money from agency coffers and Lee Byung-kee that doubled the monthly payment to 100 million won.
All of them have admitted to paying the aides regularly, but insisted they thought they were a presidential request which they could not deny.
Prosecutors believe the money was channeled into a secret fund for Park and used for illegal political activities including conducting an election poll for the conservative bloc, or even by her personally.
Separately, Nam is also suspected of pressuring top officials at Hyundai Motor Group, the country's largest carmaker, into giving business deals worth 2.6 billion won to a company in connection with a conservative activist group.
The money is believed to have been funneled into the advocate group to carry out political activities in favor of the government.
Lee Byung-kee was detained on Tuesday on an emergency warrant over the same allegations. Park's two aides have been arrested over bribery charges.