What's next?

Mr Moon Jae In is a potential presidential nominee. Lee Jae Yong has denied the charges in the bribery scandal. Ms Park Geun Hye could now face criminal charges.
Ms Park Geun Hye could now face criminal charges.
Mr Moon Jae In is a potential presidential nominee. Lee Jae Yong has denied the charges in the bribery scandal. Ms Park Geun Hye could now face criminal charges.
Mr Moon Jae In is a potential presidential nominee.
Mr Moon Jae In is a potential presidential nominee. Lee Jae Yong has denied the charges in the bribery scandal. Ms Park Geun Hye could now face criminal charges.
Lee Jae Yong has denied the charges in the bribery scandal.

PARK LOSES EXECUTIVE IMMUNITY

Yesterday's decision stripped Ms Park Geun Hye of the immunity from prosecution she enjoyed while in office. This means she could now face criminal charges, including abuse of power, coercion of donations and the sharing of state secrets.

Special prosecutors said they had found evidence that she colluded with her friend Choi Soon Sil to pressure top business executives to donate millions to foundations run by Choi in return for government favours. Ms Park and Choi have denied any wrongdoing.

For months Ms Park has refused to make herself available for questioning by prosecutors. But that may no longer be an option once she leaves the Blue House. Her aide said her private home in Gangnam district needs some renovations and security checks before she could move back.

EARLY PRESIDENTIAL POLLS

A presidential election must be held within 60 days, with local media suggesting May 9 as the most likely date. South Korea's election watchdog has begun accepting applications from presidential hopefuls.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is home to several top candidates, including Mr Moon Jae In, 63, who lost to Ms Park by 3 percentage points in 2012. The party will hold a nationwide primary within a month to pick a nominee.

Ms Park's Liberty Korea Party, formerly known as Saenuri and Grand National Party, has yet to put forward a candidate. Acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn is seen as a potential candidate but he has yet to confirm his presidential ambitions.

SAMSUNG NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET

The scandal has also swept up South Korea's biggest chaebol Samsung. Its de facto chief Lee Jae Yong, 48, is accused of funnelling US$36 million (S$51 million) in bribes to Choi, as well as other crimes: embezzlement, illegal transfer of property abroad and perjury before Parliament.

Prosecutors say he sought a particularly South Korean favour in return: approval for a 2015 merger that cemented his family's hold over the sprawling Samsung Group.

The first preliminary hearing for Lee's trial was held on Thursday. He and the other Samsung executives, who are accused of aiding him, have denied the charges. The next preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 23. Chaebol bosses, including Lee's father, have been convicted in previous corruption cases, but punishments have usually been light or commuted.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'What's next?'. Print Edition | Subscribe