SEOUL, South Korea (3rd UPDATE) – South Korean prosecutors sought an arrest warrant on Monday, March 27, for ousted president Park Geun-Hye, days after questioning her over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her down.
Park, 65, had her removal from office confirmed by the country’s top court earlier this month, ending her executive immunity, and her prosecution has been a key demand of the millions of people who took to the streets to protest against her.
The former president is accused of multiple offenses including bribery, leaking government information and abuse of power in the scandal.
“The accused abused her enormous power and status as president to receive bribes from companies or to infringe upon the rights to freedom of corporate management, and leaked important confidential information on state affairs. These are grave issues,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
“A large amount of evidence has been collected so far but the accused is denying most of the charges, and there is a risk of destroying evidence in the future,” it said.
Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s secret confidante at the heart of the scandal, is already on trial for forcing top local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which she allegedly used for personal gain.
Prosecutors said it would be “counter to the principle of fairness” if Park was not arrested. The Seoul Central District Court will review their request on Thursday, March 30, they said.
If the warrant is approved, Park will become the third former leader to be arrested over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where politics and big business have long been closely tied.
Two former army-backed leaders who ruled in the 1980s and 1990s – Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo – both served jail terms for charges including bribery after they retired.
Another ex-leader, Roh Moo-Hyun, committed suicide in 2009 by jumping off a cliff after he was questioned over graft allegations.
Park was impeached by parliament in December, as the scandal combined with mounting economic and social frustrations to trigger huge candlelit demonstrations. The Constitutional Court later upheld the decision.
Last week she underwent a marathon 21-hour interrogation session at the prosecutors’ office, having refused repeated requests to be interviewed while in power.
Park allegedly offered governmental favors to top businessmen who enriched Choi, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong, who was arrested and charged with bribery last month.
She is also accused of letting her friend, a high school graduate with no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including nomination of top officials.
Park, daughter of late dictator Park Chung-Hee, is also said to have ordered aides to leak secret state files to Choi, and to have cracked down on thousands of artists who had voiced criticisms of her or her father’s iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979.
Park grew up in the Blue House, with the first family treated as royalty by some supporters and Park dubbed the young “princess” – a nickname that endured for decades.
The assassination of both her parents 5 years apart in the 1970s further fanned sympathy for her.
After her mother was murdered by a Korean-Japanese believed to have been acting on Pyongyang’s orders, Park assumed the role of first lady until her father was killed by his own security chief in 1979.
She was elected in her own right in 2012, largely thanks to a bedrock of support among older conservative voters who benefited from rapid economic growth under her father’s rule.
Even as her approval ratings plunged to record lows, some have remained loyal.
Park’s lawyers did not immediately respond to the arrest warrant, but more than 100 of her mostly older supporters assembled near her house in southern Seoul, pledging to protect her.
“Let’s all gather at her home… to protect the president!” the online community for her admirers urged members in a message.
Park has repeatedly apologized for the upset caused by the scandal but not admitted any wrongdoing, blaming Choi for abusing their friendship.
An election to choose her successor will be held on May 9. Moon Jae-In, her rival in 2012 and a former leader of the main liberal opposition Democratic Party, leads opinion polls by large margins. – Rappler.com