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World

South Korea Court Approves Arrest of Ex-President over Scandal

Friday's ruling by the Seoul Central District Court means that prosecutors can immediately put Park in a detention facility

Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye, second from left, arrives for questioning on her arrest warrant at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 30, 2017, photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon, Pool
7 months ago

SEOUL – A South Korean court on Friday approved the arrest of former President Park Geun-hye over high-profile corruption allegations that already ended her tumultuous four-year rule and prompted an election to find her successor.

The Seoul Central District Court’s ruling means Park will be taken to a detention center soon. Prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before formally charging her, meaning she will likely be in jail while her case is heard. A district court normally issues a ruling within six months of an indictment.

The court’s decision marks yet another humiliating fall for Park, South Korea’s first female president who was elected in 2012 amid a wave of conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father whose 18-year rule is marked by both rapid economic rise and enormous human rights abuses.

Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoing. The allegations led millions of South Koreans to protest in the streets every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled March 10 to remove her. Park’s presidential powers had already been suspended after Parliament impeached her in December.

Prosecutors have said they wanted to arrest Park because the allegations against her are “grave” and because other suspects involved the scandal, including her confidante Choi Soo-sil, have already been arrested.

The Seoul court said it decided to approve Park’s arrest because of worries that she may try to destroy evidence. Park was questioned at a court hearing for nearly nine hours.

In the coming weeks, prosecutors are expected to formally charge Park with extortion, bribery and abuse of power. A bribery conviction alone is punishable by up to life in prison in South Korea.

Park and Choi deny most of the allegations. Park has said she only let Choi edit some of her presidential speeches and got her help on “public relations” issues. Choi made similar statements.

Park and Choi deny most of the allegations. Park has said she only let Choi edit some of her presidential speeches and got her help on “public relations” issues. Choi made similar statements.

The women, both in their 60s, have been friends for 40 years. Park once described Choi as someone who helped her when she had “difficulties,” an apparent reference to her parents’ assassinations in the 1970s.

Park’s father, Chung-hee, was gunned down by his own intelligence chief in 1979, five years after his wife was killed in an assassination attempt that targeted him. Park Geun-hye served as first lady after her mother’s death.

While in office, Park Geun-hye had refused to meet with prosecutors, citing a law that gives a leader immunity from prosecution except for grave crimes such as treason.

South Korea is to hold an election in May to choose Park’s successor.

HYUNG-JIN KIM

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