In the latest chapter of an ongoing corruption scandal that’s gripped the Republic of Korea for several months — leading to political paralysis and ultimately an executive power vacuum in Seoul — ousted President Park Geun-Hye was arrested Friday on charges of extortion and abuse of power.
Park faces up to 20 days in jail while investigators look into the extent of collusion between her and Choi Soon-sil, who allegedly pressured Korea’s powerful conglomerates, known as “chaebol,” with bribes in return for political favors.
“(Park) abused the mighty power and position as president to take bribes from companies and infringed upon the freedom of corporate management and leaked important confidential official information,” a statement released Monday by the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office said.
During the issuance of Park’s arrest warrant, a Seoul Central District Court judge noted that “the cause and the need for the warrant are recognized as the main charges against her have been verified and as evidence could be destroyed.”
Park, however, protested the arrest and detention, claiming that she poses no flight risk and won’t try to tamper with or destroy evidence while prosecutors investigate the scandal.
The investigations have led to the indictment of one of the country’s most high-profile businessman, billionaire Samsung Group chief Lee Jae-yong. Lee is currently in detention and faces what one prosecutor describes as the “trial of the century” for providing US$36 million to a secret associate of Park’s in exchange for the approval of a large-scale merger. Lee’s trial is to begin on April 7.
Park’s removal from the Blue House came as the culmination of months of political turmoil, including massive marches calling for her ouster. The former head-of-state could face 10 years in prison if she is convicted of receiving bribes from the conglomerates’ bosses.
Park is a living icon for some of the country’s right-wing establishment which has been rabidly supportive of a pro-U.S., hardline stance against China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Park political dynasty has been plagued by scandals in the past. The ousted president’s father, late dictator Park Chung-hee, was assassinated in 1979 by his own appointed head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
Democratic Party of Korea candidate Moon Jae-in is expected to win the upcoming May 9 presidential elections. Many are hoping that Moon, a former human rights lawyer, will steer the peninsula toward a state of normalcy and inter-Korean reconciliation while avoiding conflict with Korea’s Asian neighbors.