SEOUL - South Korea's Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye in a unanimous vote on Friday (March 10), removing her from office over a graft scandal involving big businesses, including Samsung and Lotte.
Ms Park, who is South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, was removed with immediate effect. A new president will be elected within the next 60 days.
All eight judges in the Constitutional Court voted to uphold the impeachment by Parliament last December.
"The President has let the people down and her actions are a grave violation of the law and Constitution. What she did has severe negative effects and repercussions, and we believe there are more benefits in expelling her from office," acting Chief Judge Lee Jung Mi said in her ruling on Friday.
"With unanimous vote, we announce upholding the impeachment, and Park Geun Hye is expelled. We all agree this is a matter of safeguarding the Constitution, and therefore, there is no other choice than to decide on this verdict."
Ms Park, however, will not leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday, her spokesman was quoted as saying by Reuters. "For now, Park is not leaving the Blue House today," Blue House spokesman Kim Dong Jo said after the verdict was announced.
Ms Park has a private residence in a neighbourhood called Samseong-dong in the affluent Gangnam district of the capital and the spokesman had said earlier that she would be going there, when she leaves the Blue House.
"No plans have been made for her departure. Due to security reasons, she cannot go back to her house in Samseong-dong," Mr Kim said.
The court's decision will bring the country closer to moving past one of its biggest scandals, which has seen millions of people taking to the streets for months. Prosecutors have indicted some 40 people so far, including Samsung Electronics heir-apparent Lee Jay Yong.
The special prosecutor's office had said in a report earlier this week that Ms Park, 65, colluded with her long-time friend Choi Soon Sil to take bribes from the Samsung chief to comment his control of the conglomerate. Ms Park also allowed Choi access to state secrets, according to the report.
The special prosecutor also said Ms Park was instrumental in blacklisting more than 9,000 artists, authors and movie industry professionals, and excluding them from government assistance that constituted an abuse of power.
Ms Park had apologised several times for the scandal, but she rejected all allegations of wrongdoing when she submitted a written statement to the court’s hearing in February.
Her confidante Choi is already on trial.
Ms Park’s removal will allow the government to focus more on a slowing economy, escalating tensions with North Korea and economic retaliation from China over the deployment of US Thaad missile defence system.
Thousands of Park supporters gathered near the presidential Blue House for the verdict, while those who opposed her parked themselves at Gwanghwamun Square.
The police stepped up security near the court and mobilised over 21,000 officers to guard government buildings in the area.