Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye was arrested on Friday after a Seoul court issued a warrant in connection with the corruption and abuse-of-power scandal that ended her presidency, according to local media reports.
Facing at least 13 charges, Ms Park is accused of letting a now-jailed confidante, Choi Soon-sil, meddle in state affairs and gain unauthorised access to classified documents, while colluding to extort massive donations from businesses for two foundations under Choi’s effective control.
Ms Park, the daughter of former South Korean President Park Chung Hee, became the first former South Korean leader to be put behind bars since ex-leaders Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, who were jailed on corruption and mutiny charges in the mid-1990s.
Ms Park was questioned on Thursday at the Seoul central district court, and taken to the Seoul central prosecutors’ office to await the court’s decision.
Hundreds of her supporters had gathered near her home in southern Seoul. Some clashed with riot police as they attempted to block Ms Park’s vehicle from heading to the court.
Local media reported that the court rejected a request by Ms Park’s lawyers to let her arrive through a special underground car park to avoid the press.
The prosecutors sought the arrest warrant on Monday, citing concerns that the 65-year-old could destroy evidence.
Describing the charges against her as “very serious”, the prosecutors said that Ms Park “abused (her) powerful presidential status and authority” to force businesses to make donations, and leaked important government secrets.
They added: “A lot of evidence has been collected but since the suspect has denied most of the allegations against her, there are dangers (of her) covering up evidence.”
“It would be unfair not to seek an arrest warrant (against Park) considering that her accomplice Choi Soon-sil, as well as government officials who carried out her orders, and the ones who offered her kickbacks, have all been detained,” the prosecutors said. .
Ms Park had one year of her five-year term left when she was ousted. South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9 to replace her.
Ms Park, who became the country’s first democratically elected leader to be dismissed from office after the Constitutional Court upheld on March 10 a parliamentary impeachment vote against her, has denied wrongdoing. In being ousted from office, she lost the immunity from criminal indictment granted to sitting presidents.
In February, the special prosecutors’ office identified Ms Park as a criminal suspect and marked her as an accomplice in the charges against Choi. Choi has also denied any wrongdoing.
The scandal has also embroiled Samsung, South Korea’s biggest conglomerate.
Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s heir apparent, was arrested and indicted last month on charges of offering bribes to Choi in exchange for the state-run pension fund’s backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.
In addition to Samsung, the prosecutors have begun widening their investigations to include other business tycoons.
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