SEOUL (REUTERS) – A South Korean judge was expected to deliberate into the early hours of Friday (March 31) on whether to arrest ousted president Park Geun Hye, the country’s first democratically elected leader to be thrown from office, in a corruption scandal that has dominated politics for months.
Park, who could become South Korea’s third former leader to be jailed, is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon Sil, to pressure big businesses to contribute to now-defunct foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.
She gave about eight hours of testimony at Seoul Central District Court on Thursday and was being held at the prosecutors’ office next door while the judge studied evidence and arguments to rule on whether to an issue an arrest warrant.
The decision was not expected to come until the early hours of Friday, a court official told Reuters.
Park, 65, arrived expressionless at the court to plead her case that she should not be arrested or held while prosecutors investigate the scandal.
Park argues that she does not pose a flight risk and will not try to tamper with evidence.
She and Choi have both denied any wrongdoing.
If Park is arrested, prosecutors will then have up to 20 days to file formal charges and put her on trial.
Park’s ouster capped months of paralysis and turmoil over the corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in detention and on trial.
Her impeachment this month left a political vacuum, with only an interim president pending a May 9 election, at a time of rising tensions with North Korea over its weapons programme and China, which is angry over South Korea’s decision to host a US anti-missile system.
Prosecutors said on Monday Park was accused of soliciting companies for money and infringing upon the freedom of corporate management by using her power as the president. Park was questioned for 14 hours by prosecutors last week.
She faces possibly more than 10 years in jail if convicted of receiving bribes from bosses of big conglomerates, including Samsung Group chief Lee Jae Yong, in return for favours.
Lee, who denies charges that he provided bribes in return for favours for Samsung, and Choi are both in detention and on trial separately.
Lee’s trial, which has so far held preliminary hearings, will begin arguments on April 7 when he is expected to appear, court records showed.
If she is arrested, Park will likely be given a bigger cell than other inmates in a Seoul detention facility but be subject to the same rules on everything from meals to room inspections, former prosecution and correctional officials have said.
Park’s hairdresser came to her home as usual on Thursday morning to coif the former president’s hair in her favourite chignon style.
She was removed from office when a constitutional court upheld her parliamentary impeachment.
The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of Park’s supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court, and a festive rally by those who had demanded her ouster who celebrated justice being served.