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Arrest warrant sought for ousted Park

South Korean prosecutors on Monday sought an arrest warrant for former President Park Geun-hye on charges including bribery and abuse of authority in connection with the corruption scandal that led to her impeachment.

Whether Park will be taken into custody now depends on the Seoul Central District Court, which will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday to review the application. The ruling is expected early Friday.

Former President Park Geun-hye arrived at the prosecutors' office on Feb. 21 to be questioned over a string of corruption allegations. (Yonhap)
Former President Park Geun-hye arrived at the prosecutors' office on Feb. 21 to be questioned over a string of corruption allegations. (Yonhap)

“The case is too serious, as the suspect has abused her status and authority as a president to receive money from companies, violated the freedom of business activity and leaked confidential information related to the government,” the prosecution said in a statement.

“It would be unfair not to request a warrant considering that her accomplice Choi Soon-sil, as well as those government officials who followed her orders and the ones who offered her kickbacks have all been detained.”

Key figures involved in the scandal, including her longtime confidante Choi, former presidential aides, ex-ministers and Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, have been arrested and are standing trial.

Park has denied all the charges, claiming no knowledge of any illegal activities by Choi and her inner circle.

The request for the arrest writ came six days after the prosecution questioned the impeached president for 14 straight hours on a total of 13 charges.

She is suspected of extorting donations worth 77.4 billion won ($69.6 million) from local firms including Samsung Group for the Mir and K-Sports foundations controlled by Choi in return for political favors. Park’s other charges include allowing Choi to meddle in state affairs, leaking government secrets to her and discriminating against liberal-leaning artists.

The most controversial charge is bribery, a crime punishable by imprisonment for life or a term of more than 10 years.

Prosecutor-General Kim Soo-nam (Yonhap)
Prosecutor-General Kim Soo-nam (Yonhap)

While the prosecution viewed local firms as victims of Park’s extortion of donations, an independent counsel saw Park as an active player in the bribery scheme involving Choi and Samsung Group.

The independent counsel suspected that Samsung Group offered or promised to offer funds totaling 43.3 billion won to Choi and her business interests in return for the Park administration’s backing of a 2014 merger of its two affiliates. The merger was a crucial step for the smooth transfer of power from the ailing group Chairman Lee Kun-hee to his only son Lee Jae-yong.

Park was expelled from power on March 10, with less than a year remaining in her five-year term, in a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court to finalize the Dec. 9 parliamentary impeachment. The ruling stripped her of the immunity that had shielded her from criminal investigation.

South Korea’s liberal parties welcomed the decision, while the former ruling party expressed regret.

“Requesting an arrest warrant for Park on charges of bribery and others is a historic decision. It is a reasonable conclusion, given the law and principles,” said Youn Kwan-seuk, spokesperson for the liberal Democratic Party of Korea in a briefing.

The centrist People’s Party showed its expectation for the court to issue the warrant, praising the prosecution for showing that the law does not yield to power.

The conservative and pro-Park Liberty Korea Party, however, said through a statement that “it is very regrettable for the party which had been hoping for an investigation without detention.”

The smaller conservative Bareun Party also expressed regret about the “unfortunate history” of the nation’s presidents being arrested after leaving the office. But it said, “We hope this is a chance to remind ourselves of the spirit of liberal democracy that nobody is an exception before the law and principle.”

If the writ is issued, she will become the nation’s third former president to be arrested, following Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-hwan.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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