Park attends court to argue against request for her arrest

Ms Park arriving for the hearing yesterday. The prosecution says she may try to destroy evidence if she is not detained.
Ms Park arriving for the hearing yesterday. The prosecution says she may try to destroy evidence if she is not detained.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

South Korea's ousted president Park Geun Hye has attended a court hearing to argue against the prosecution's request to arrest her on multiple charges in connection with the corruption and influence-peddling scandal that brought her downfall.

Ms Park, 65, arrived at the Seoul Central District Court yesterday morning but ignored questions from the media. Judge Kang Bu Yeong presided over the hearing, which lasted almost nine hours. Results were expected late last night or early this morning.

State prosecutors have accused Ms Park of colluding with her confidante Choi Soon Sil to extort a total of 77.4 billion won (S$97 million) from major conglomerates, under the guise of donations to two foundations started by Choi, and of abusing her authority to allow Choi to meddle in state affairs.

The prosecution sought an arrest warrant on Monday, citing the severity of the case and the possibility that Ms Park - the country's first female president and also the first to be impeached - may try to destroy evidence.

Experts said the court will most likely issue the arrest warrant but require Ms Park to stand trial only after the May 9 presidential election, to minimise impact on voter sentiment.

Seoul National University law professor Lee Jae Min said the issue of an arrest warrant alone could evoke sympathy in conservative supporters who still have a soft spot for the daughter of the late leader Park Chung Hee, and prompt them to vote for a conservative candidate.

"If things remain quiet, people will probably vote for a neutral or liberal candidate. But if the situation goes to extremes, such as arrest or imprisonment of the former president, it may ignite an emotional reaction from the conservative group," said Prof Lee.

About 80 lawmakers from the ruling Liberty Korea Party, of which Ms Park is still a member, signed a petition on Wednesday to urge the court to reject the arrest warrant. The opposition camp, however, has demanded fairness in investigations, arguing that others involved in the case - including Choi and Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong, who is accused of giving bribes to Choi in return for business favours - have already been arrested and indicted.

Lawmaker Koh Yong Jin, from the main opposition Democratic Party, told reporters: "I hope the court will make a fair decision to show that the rule of law persists in this land."

After the hearing ended, Ms Park proceeded to the prosecutor's office nearby to wait for the court's decision. If an arrest warrant is issued, she will be moved to a detention centre south of Seoul, where Choi and Lee are being held.

If convicted of receiving bribes from big conglomerates in return for favours, Ms Park could face more than 10 years in jail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Park attends court to argue against request for her arrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe