Clamour for Park Geun Hye to face charges in corruption scandal

Already impeached, S. Korea's ex-president may face questioning in a criminal inquiry

With Ms Park Geun Hye impeached and out of power, calls are growing louder for South Korea's former president to be charged over a graft and influence-peddling scandal involving a close confidante.

Critics are also slamming Ms Park for her refusal to accept the Constitutional Court's impeachment ruling on Friday.

Stripped of presidential immunity, the 65-year-old could face a criminal probe for allegedly allowing her confidante Choi Soon Sil, who is not in government, to meddle in state affairs.

Ms Park also allegedly colluded with Choi to extort millions of dollars from major conglomerates, including Samsung, to set up two public foundations that were said to be for Choi's own gain.

Yesterday, prosecutors mulled over whether to summon Ms Park for questioning, and when to do so. She has denied any wrongdoing and refused to face questioning in person.

Prosecution sources told local media they have not made any decision and are gathering opinions on how to proceed.

 

Some analysts said indictment and jail are unlikely as impeachment is already the worst punishment. Also, poor treatment of Ms Park could enrage her supporters further and upset conservative voters who have a soft spot for the daughter of the late authoritarian president Park Chung Hee.

Others said the probe should proceed as soon as possible, with Dr Lee Seong Hyon of the Sejong Institute think-tank saying that prosecutors should show "neither favouritism nor prejudice".

"She will be subject to the law just like anyone else," he added.

Ms Park can be arrested if she fails to respond to a court summons.

Opposition parties have intensified calls for an investigation, with leaders denouncing her statement on Sunday that she believes the truth will be revealed even though it may take time.

Ms Park demonstrated "nothing but disobedience", said Ms Choo Mi Ae, head of the main opposition Democratic Party.

She also urged prosecutors to "find the truth and punish any crime".

The minor opposition People's Party urged Ms Park to cooperate fully with investigators so that the truth can be revealed.

Elections to pick South Korea's next president are due by May 9.

The front runner, Mr Moon Jae In of the Democratic Party, said yesterday Ms Park's defiance of Friday's court ruling is "an insult against the people and the Constitution". He added that it is her final duty to accept the result and offer an apology to the people.

Dr Kang Miong Sei of the Sejong Institute told The Straits Times that Ms Park will probably continue to deny any wrongdoing. "That's the only exit route for her...to survive this storm," he said.

The Ministry of Interior is working to fix a date for the election. A decision is due early next week.

There are calls to amend the Constitution to curb the president's power to root out cronyism and graft as well as break up the cosy ties between the government and family-run conglomerates that have dominated Asia's fourth largest economy for decades.

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong is among 40 people indicted over the Park scandal. He is accused of giving bribes to Choi in return for government support for a con- tentious merger of two key subsidiaries to consolidate his control over them.

There are also proposals to cut the president's single five-year term to three or four years, and allow re-election.

Mr Moon has said a five-year term is too short to implement reform. His rival Ahn Hee Jung, governor of South Chungcheong province, expressed willingness to shorten his term if he is elected.

Emeritus Professor Im Kaye Soon of Hanyang University said the next president should be mindful of his behaviour and take a leaf from Ms Park's impeachment, largely a result of public opinion turning against her.

The scandal, which broke last October, not only triggered massive rallies but also drove some members of her ruling party to support impeachment in a parliamentary vote in December.

"Now, we know that any Korean politician or congressman can be impeached for wrongdoings," she said.

SEE OPINION: S. Korea gets impeachment process right

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Clamour for Park to face charges in corruption scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe