Ex-president Park is now prisoner 503 living in a 10.6 sq m cell

Ousted South Korean President Park Geun Hye arrives for questioning on her arrest warrant at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul.
Ousted South Korean President Park Geun Hye arrives for questioning on her arrest warrant at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • Ousted South Korean president Park Geun Hye is now just prisoner 503, incarcerated in a spartan cell while prosecutors decide whether to charge her over a corruption scandal that precipitated her fall from grace.

The former head of state spent her first night in solitary confinement at Seoul Detention Centre after a court last Friday ordered her to be held pending charges.

She had her mugshot taken and was given a prison kit including toiletries, a meal tray and a quilt, reports said. After being processed like any other prisoner, Ms Park, 65, was assigned a 10.6 sq m solitary cell, roughly one-tenth the size of a five-room HDB flat. Her cell was larger than the average 6.5 sq m cell, Yonhap news agency said.

"After taking a bath, she changed into green winter-season prison garb," an official of the Justice Ministry was quoted as saying by the Joongang Ilbo daily.

Ms Park's uniform was emblazoned across the chest with her prison number - 503 - by which she will be known during her incarceration. She burst into tears as guards showed her to her cell, TV Chosun said, quoting unidentified sources.

Prosecutors have yet to specify the formal charges against her, but have previously said she is suspected of bribery, abuse of authority, coercion and leaking government secrets. They plan to resume questioning her early this week, most likely by visiting her in the prison instead of summoning her to their office, Yonhap reported.

They have until April 19 to question her before they charge her.

Ms Park secured the largest vote share of any candidate in the democratic era when she was elected in 2012. However, she was impeached by Parliament in December, as the scandal combined with mounting economic and social frustrations to trigger huge candlelit demonstrations. The Constitutional Court later upheld the decision.

Ms Park, daughter of late dictator Park Chung Hee, is the third former leader to be arrested over corruption in Asia's fourth- largest economy, where politics and big business have long been closely tied.

If eventually found guilty, Ms Park would face at least 10 years in prison, legal experts said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-president Park is now prisoner 503 living in a 10.6 sq m cell'. Print Edition | Subscribe