Prosecutors in South Korea are seeking an arrest warrant for former president Park Geun-hye for her alleged role in a sprawling corruption scandal that triggered her impeachment earlier this month.
“The issues are grave . . . the defendant has abused her status and power to extract funds from companies, impinged on corporate freedoms and leaked state secrets,” said a statement by the prosecutors on Monday. “It is unfair not to seek her arrest warrant as her accomplices who followed her orders . . . have all been arrested.”
The decision to seek her arrest follows a 14-hour interrogation of Ms Park last week.
This month the country’s top court upheld December’s impeachment vote by the National Assembly, stripping South Korea’s first female leader of the presidency and so her immunity from prosecution.
The parliamentary vote followed months of mass protests by demonstrators angered by claims that Ms Park had fallen under the influence of long-time friend and so-called “shaman adviser” Choi Soon-sil.
The two women allegedly colluded to press some of South Korea’s top companies to donate millions of dollars to entities under Ms Choi’s control. Ms Park is also accused of allowing Ms Choi — a civilian who had no official position and has already been indicted — access to an array of government policy documents.
If the move to seek an arrest warrant for Ms Park is granted by a court, the former president will face charges of bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets.
The 65-year-old, who denies wrongdoing, struck a defiant tone in her final public statement as president a fortnight ago, saying “the truth will be definitely unearthed”.
The scandal has already ensnared a host of Ms Park’s former top aides and officials including the former culture minister, who was arrested for her role in crafting a blacklist of artists deemed critical of the government.
Also caught up in the upheaval is South Korea’s most powerful man, de facto Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong.
Mr Lee is on trial in Seoul amid claims that Samsung made donations worth nearly $40m to Ms Choi in exchange for business favours. Mr Lee denies the claims.
Any decision to arrest Ms Park is likely to provoke further outcry from her supporters, many of whom violently demonstrated against the impeachment decision by the country’s constitutional court. Three people died in the protests.
The verdict paved the way for a snap presidential election, with polls scheduled for May 9. The winner will assume office the next day.
Moon Jae-in, a veteran politician with the opposition Democratic party, has for weeks been leading opinion polls. In remarks to the Financial Times, he vowed to ban presidential pardons for convicted executives.
Ms Park would be the country’s third former president to be arrested on criminal charges. The other two, military-era leaders Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were pardoned by subsequent presidents in a bid to heal the nation.
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