I recently noticed on a domain I had purchased (second hand) there are a lot of spammy inbound links which I did not check for before purchasing the domain a couple of years back. At the time i was not aware of the problems with such links.
This site has not had a manual penalty though I suspect there is now an algorythm penalty, and if not it is in danger of getting one. The links are difficult to remove, e.g. many sites in Russian and Chinese.
I decided to start again with a new domain name and not redirect to the new site, but I saw a couple of articles, e.g. this one, whereby people had got benefit from redirecting a penalised domain into a new one.
From what I can tell vie Webmaster tools and majestic, all the inbound links are spam apart from a couple of nofollow from my own sites.