SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak apologised to the nation Tuesday for what he called heartbreaking corruption cases allegedly involving his elder brother and close aides.

“I bow my head and apologise for causing concern to the people due to these incidents,” a solemn Lee said in brief televised remarks.

“It breaks my heart... that such regrettable things have happened among people so close to me.”

The incidents have tarnished the conservative leader’s image in the last year of his five-year term.

Hours after his remarks, prosecutors arrested two of his former close aides, Kim Hee-Jung and Kim Se-Wook, on suspicion of taking bribes from the chairmen of troubled banks in exchange for assistance, according to Yonhap news agency.

Kim Hee-Jung, 44, Lee’s former presidential secretary for personal affairs, is under investigation for allegedly accepting around 100 million won ($87,000) in kickbacks from Solomon Savings Bank chairman Lim Suk.

Kim Se-Wook, 58, is suspected of receiving two gold bars, each worth around 60 million won, from Mirae Savings Bank chief Kim Chan-Kyong.

Both chairmen are already being held in custody on charges including bribery.

A presidential election will be held in December but Lee is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term.

Analysts said the graft cases would have only a limited effect on the electoral fortunes of his New Frontier Party.

“This wouldn’t have any significant impact on the election, because the party has distanced itself from the president, as if they are not related to each other at all,” Professor Lee Junhan at Incheon University told AFP.