S. Korean prosecutors seek arrest of ousted Park Geun Hye

Police officers standing guard outside the Seoul home of former leader Park Geun Hye yesterday. She was removed from office on March 10.
Police officers standing guard outside the Seoul home of former leader Park Geun Hye yesterday. She was removed from office on March 10.PHOTO: REUTERS

Former president faces 13 charges over corruption scandal that led to impeachment

South Korean prosecutors have sought an arrest warrant for former president Park Geun Hye on multiple charges, including bribery and leaking official secrets, in connection with a corruption and influence-peddling scandal that led to her impeachment.

Her fate now lies in the hands of the Seoul Central District Court, which will hold a hearing on Thursdayto review the request.

Noting that the case is very serious and that a lot of evidence has been collected against her, the prosecution said yesterday that it would be unfair to not seek an arrest warrant, given that others involved, including alleged accomplice Choi Soon Sil, have all been detained.

"The suspect has abused her authority as president to receive money from companies... and she leaked confidential government information to a third party," the prosecution said in a statement.

"We have determined that seeking an arrest warrant would accord with law and principle."

Ms Park, who was removed from office on March 10 by the Constitutional Court, faces 13 charges, including abuse of power and coercion.

The prosecution said that there is a chance of her destroying evidence, as she has denied most of the allegations.

The move, which came six days after prosecutors interrogated Ms Park for 14 hours, drew mixed reaction from political parties.

The ruling Liberty Korea Party acknowledged the need for prosecutors to seek an arrest warrant but added that "it is still very regrettable as we had hoped for an investigation without detention".

The main opposition Democratic Party, however, hailed the decision as a historic one based on law and principle.

If arrested, Ms Park would be the third former president detained on criminal charges, after Roh Tae Woo and Chun Doo Hwan were arrested, separately, in 1995, for charges including corruption. They were sentenced to jail but later pardoned by then President Kim Young Sam.

In Ms Park's case, prosecutors have accused her of colluding with Choi to extort billions of won in the guise of donations from conglomerates such as Samsung and Lotte.

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong has been arrested and charged with giving about 43.3 billion won (S$54.3 million) in bribes to Choi, in return for government support for a merger of two affiliates to pave the way for his succession.

Ms Park's former aides, including An Chong Bum and Kim Ki Choon, have also been arrested and are facing trial.

If convicted of bribery, Ms Park faces at least 10 years in prison.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korean prosecutors seek arrest of ousted Park'. Print Edition | Subscribe