A Seoul court issued an arrest warrant for former President Lee Myung-bak on bribery, embezzlement, tax evasion and other charges.
He is the fourth ex-president to be arrested in South Korea's constitutional history.
The Seoul Central District Court accepted the prosecution's warrant request for Lee late Thursday night, stating the suspect may destroy evidence.
After the court decision, 76-year-old Lee released a hand-written statement posted on his social networking site, saying his efforts for clean politics fell short of the present day standard of Korean citizens.
He said he blames himself for everything and feels remorseful.
As the prosecution secured his custody for up to 20 days, the former leader was transported to the Seoul Eastern Detention Center.
Lee faces 18 charges, including bribery, tax evasion, embezzlement, abuse of authority and leaking presidential records.
He is accused of pocketing eleven billion won in bribes and embezzling 35 billion won from auto parts maker DAS, which he allegedly owns.
During the maximum 20 day detainment, prosecutors are considering questioning Lee at the detention center. But he may refuse to take part as he already declined to show up for the warrant deliberation.
Lee is expected to be indicted around April tenth when his detention expires. However, some say that could be pushed up in a bid to minimize any impact on the June local elections.
Lee has denied all charges against him, claiming the investigation is a "political vendetta" by the liberal Moon Jae-in administration.
The former business heavyweight served as president from 2008 to 2013.