By Agence France-Presse
The CEO-turned-president who served from 2008 to 2013 has been charged with bribery, power abuse, embezzlement, and tax evasion, state prosecutors said in a statement.
It comes just days after Lee's successor as president, Park Geun-hye, was jailed for 24 years for corruption.
"We will thoroughly retrieve the criminal proceeds that were accumulated by Lee through illegal means," prosecutor Han Dong-hoon told reporters.
Lee was detained late last month but has since refused to be interrogated by prosecutors.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has denounced the investigation as a "political revenge".
If convicted of all the allegations, the septuagenarian Lee could be jailed for life, Yonhap news agency reported.
His trial is expected to begin next month, according to Yonhap.
South Korean presidents have a tendency to end up in prison after their time in power -- usually once their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House.
All four former South Korean presidents who are still alive have now been charged or convicted for criminal offences.
Conservative Lee's successor Park was sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined millions of dollars last week for bribery and abuse of power.
She was ousted last year over a nationwide corruption scandal that prompted massive street protests.
Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, former army generals who served as president through the 1980s to early 1990s, served jail terms for corruption and treason after leaving office.
Both Chun and Roh received presidential pardons after serving about two years.
Another former leader, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide after becoming embroiled in a corruption probe.
Lee has been accused of accepting a total 11 billion won ($10.2 million) in bribes between late 2007 when he was elected president and 2012, according to prosecutors' documents.
These allegations include claims that the Samsung Group bought a presidential pardon in 2009 for its chairman Lee Kun-hee, who had been convicted of tax evasion.
Both Samsung and Lee have denied the allegations as groundless.
The 11 billion won in bribes also include 1.7 billion won of secret funds from the country's spy agency Lee allegedly pocketed, and 3.5 billion won Lee reportedly accepted from five different people, including a Buddhist monk, in return for policy favours.
Separately, prosecutors claim Lee embezzled 35 billion won over 12 years between 1994 and 2006.
Lee has dismissed what prosecutors say are "incriminating" documents and testimony from his relatives and aides as "fabrications".