Former President Park Geun-hye was arrested and jailed Friday over corruption charges. The Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant for Park after interrogating her Thursday.
It was a result of well-functioning law and democracy, and will be recorded as a turning point in modern Korean history. Citizens rose up against her over a corruption scandal, the National Assembly voted to impeach her, the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment motion, the prosecution investigated and requested her arrest, and the judiciary acknowledged the necessity to detain her.
She is the first former president to be interrogated by the court before being jailed and the third former president to be imprisoned after ex-Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo.
Her imprisonment signals an end to nostalgia for the era of her father, former President Park Chung Hee, who was credited with the modernization of Korea and its rapid economic development.
The arrest of Park is forcing changes in conservative politics while boosting liberalism.
The court played it by the book. It jailed Park as the warrant request established probable cause to believe she committed offenses. Her status as a former president was not taken into consideration. The court believes Park runs the risk of destroying evidence and regarded her offenses as serious.
The most contentious of the 13 charges facing her is bribery, a felony punishable with a jail sentence, and the warrant issuance indicates the court saw it probable that Park received a bribe.
Such judgement is fair, considering accomplices were arrested and are being tried in detention. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is accused of bribing Park and her friend Choi Soon-sil. Even in the conventional sense, it would be hard not to arrest a suspect at the receiving end of bribery. Her ex-aides and government officials were also arrested and jailed in connection with the scandal. If Park was exempted from the arrest, so should the others.
Just because Park was arrested does not automatically mean she is guilty. But it is difficult to expect her to be set free. An acquittal of Park would negate the Constitutional Court’s decision to dismiss her. Unless the trial drops the bribery charge, a jail sentence looks inevitable.
If she is given a jail term along with other accomplices, her only way out of prison early would be parole or a pardon.
Given that she has strongly denied her charges, in particular the serious bribery crime, the chance of parole does not look great. A pardon is also questionable for now. Moon Jae-in, the current front-runner in the presidential race, has prioritized the liquidation of the evils of a conservative government.
However, in a symbolic measure for national integration, presidential amnesty seems to be the only possible option.
Park may not have come to this if she had acted differently. It is hard to deny that she has caused problems on her own in connection with the scandal. She asserted she had sought Choi’s opinions until her team of aides was formed, but she was later found to have kept leaking documents to Choi afterward.
She promised to cooperate with the investigation, but refused to be interrogated and also kept prosecutors from searching the presidential office. Her lies only made people angrier. She did not appear at the Constitutional Court to plead her innocence. When announcing its decision to dismiss her, the court said, “Park betrayed the people’s trust by making false excuses.”
After returning to her private residence following her dismissal, she said, “The truth will be revealed without fail.” She refused to accept the court’s ruling and shut herself off from the general public.
With the arrest of Park, the prosecution should face fair winds in investigating other suspects, including Park’s former Senior Secretary Woo Byung-woo. It should complete its investigations, leaving no doubt whatsoever.
The presidential election is less than 40 days away. The next leader as well as the people should keep in mind that without efforts to prevent the recurrence of such a disgraceful event as the arrest of a former president, history will repeat itself.