SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye colluded with a friend to take bribes from Samsung Group aimed at cementing Samsung chief Lee Jae Yong's control of the conglomerate, the special prosecutor's office said, paving the way for Ms Park to be prosecuted if removed from office.
The findings of the 70-day probe directly accuse the impeached Ms Park of wrongdoing on several charges, including the bribery conspiracy implicating Samsung.
Lee goes on trial for bribery and embezzlement on Thursday amid a corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea and led to the impeachment.
Ms Park, 65, has had her powers suspended since her impeachment by Parliament in December. Should the Constitutional Court uphold the impeachment, she would become the country's first democratically elected president to be thrown out of office, triggering an election in Asia's fourth-largest economy.
A decision is expected as early as this week.
South Korean law does not allow a sitting president to be indicted unless she is accused of treason.
No formal charges can be brought against her until she is either removed from office or her term ends as scheduled in late February 2018.
Her removal from office would subject her to a fresh investigation by state prosecutors.
In a statement detailing the findings of its investigation, the special prosecutor's office said yesterday the National Pension Service voted in favour of a merger of two Samsung Group affiliates in 2015, despite anticipating a 138.8 billion won (S$169 million) loss.
"Samsung Group vice-chairman Lee Jae Yong colluded with others, including the corporate strategy office chief Choi Gee Sung, to bribe the President and Choi Soon Sil with an aim to receive support for his succession by embezzling corporate funds," special prosecutor Park Young Soo told a televised news conference. Choi Soon Sil is President Park's long-time confidante.
"Bribery charges related to the President, and the culture blacklist case... have been transferred to the prosecutors' office," added Mr Park, referring to the blacklisting of more than 9,000 artists, authors and movie industry professionals and their exclusion from government assistance - an act that constituted an abuse of power.
Ms Park, Choi Soon Sil and Lee have denied wrongdoing.