South Korean President Park Geun Hye has been removed from office by the country’s top court, as it upheld her impeachment by parliament over a wide-ranging corruption scandal.
South Koreans had been on the edge of their seats ahead of the ruling that began at 10am on Friday (March 10) on the impeachment of their first female President over a historic corruption scandal.
At 10.21am, Lee Jung Mi, the acting head of the Constitutional Court, said Ms Park’s action had “seriously impaired the spirit of... democracy and the rule of law."
“President Park Geun-Hye... has been dismissed,” she said.
Ms Park, 65, was impeached by Parliament on Dec 9 for allegedly allowing a confidante to meddle in state affairs as well as colluding with her to extort millions of dollars from chaebols, or conglomerates, including Samsung Group.
South Korea now has 60 days to elect a successor.
The case against President Park
The scandal broke in October 2016 when media outlets publicised damning exposes that alleged Ms Park's close friend of 40 years, Choi Soon Sil, had access to and even edited the President's official speeches and ordered presidential aides around as if they were her staff.
As journalists uncovered what appeared to be more signs of power abuse and corrupt dealings, millions of South Koreans took to the streets for several weekends in a row to demand Ms Park's resignation.
Parliament voted overwhelmingly to impeach her on Dec 9, forcing her to relinquish her duties for three months. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn has been acting as president since.
Choi was also taken into custody and charged with fraud.
On March 6, an independent prosecutor recommended 13 charges against Ms Park should the Constitutional Court uphold her impeachment and strip her of presidential immunity.
The allegations against Ms Park, broadly, were:
- Bribery: Involvement in extorting donations worth 77 billion won (S$94.4million) from chaebols for two shell foundations Choi allegedly controlled.
- Violation of the rule of law and popular sovereignty: Undermining popular sovereignty and representative democracy by giving confidential state documents to Choi and allowing the latter to make decisions in the running of the country.
- Abuse of authority: Ordering the dismissal of officials at the Culture Ministry, including Culture Minister Yoo Jin Ryong, for not giving favours to Choi's family or refusing to cooperate in creating a blacklist of liberal artists.
- Violation of duty to protect lives: Ms Park was "missing" for seven hours on the day that the Sewol ferry sank on April, 16, 2014 and killed more than 300 in the country's deadliest maritime disaster.
- Violation of press freedom: Ms Park is accused of exerting undue influence to sack a president of a local daily which reported on a document alleging that Choi's husband Jeong Yoon Ho, a long-time aide to Ms Park, had meddled in state affairs in 2014.
What will happen to Ms Park?
Ms Park, the daughter of former strongman president Park Chung Hee, is the first South Korean president to be ousted by impeachment. She has lost presidential immunity and will likely be indicted for abuse of power and receiving bribes.
What will happen to Samsung?
Samsung Group vice-chairman and heir apparent Lee Jae Yong was indicted on Feb 28 with bribery, embezzlement and perjury. Lee allegedly colluded with others, including the group's corporate strategy office chief Choi Gee Sung, to bribe President Park and Choi Soon Sil to help secure control of the world's largest smartphone maker.
Lee, who is being held in custody, denied the charges at the start of his trial on Thursday (March 9).
If convicted, he could face more than 20 years in prison. Samsung is run by top executives in his absence.
This explainer was updated on March 10 with the result of the impeachment verdict.