South Korean prosecutors summon impeached president for questioning as prime minister rules out running for office
South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday summoned former president Park Geun-hye for questioning over the corruption scandal that led to her being impeached from office last week.
Park, who had refused to be questioned while in office, now has lost her immunity from prosecution and will “actively” cooperate with the investigation, her lawyer said.
Separately, the South Korean government also announced that a snap election to replace Park would be held on May 9. But Hwang Kyo-ahn, the prime minister who is now acting president, dashed conservatives’ hopes when he said he would not run for election.
“To stabilise state affairs and fairly administer the presidential election, I’ve reached the judgment that it is inappropriate for me to run in the election,” Hwang said during a cabinet meeting Wednesday. “From now onwards, I would like to focus on the tremendous responsibility as the acting president.”
Moon Jae-in, a progressive from the main opposition Democratic party, has a strong lead in the polls, but Hwang was scoring second even before declaring an interest in running - though still a long way behind Moon.
The impeachment of Park on Friday was the first time a president has been dismissed from office since democracy was instituted in South Korea three decades ago. Her removal will help bring about an end to the political vacuum the country has been in for the past three months, as preparations are now underway to replace her.
But the criminal investigation will continue and could yield more explosive details about corruption at the top levels of government and business.
The constitutional court on Friday found Park had “continuously” violated the law and the constitution. The court concluded that the former president had helped her friend Choi Soon-sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates, leaked her confidential documents, and then lied to cover up her wrongdoing.
The justices also upbraided Park for refusing to answer questions about the case. Park had rejected special prosecutors’ requests to answer questions about her role, and she declined to appear before the constitutional court.
Even after her impeachment, she remains defiant.
“I feel sorry that I could not finish the mandate given to me as president,” a spokesman for Park quoted her as saying Sunday night, when she left the presidential Blue House and returned to her private home – some 56 hours after being dismissed. “It will take time, but I believe the truth will be revealed,” Park added, according to the spokesman.
Prosecutors said they had summoned her to be questioned next Tuesday. Son Bum-kyu, a lawyer for Park, confirmed that they had received it. “We will fully cooperate with the investigation,” he told reporters.
Prosecutors have recommended 13 charges against Park, including bribery and abuse of power.
They allege that Choi, Park’s friend, planned to take US$37 million in bribes from Samsung in return for favourable treatment for the country’s largest conglomerate. Prosecutors say that Park knew of the plan.
Choi is now on trial for bribery and extortion, as is Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung. Lee, who has been effectively running the huge conglomerate since his father, Lee Kun-hee, was hospitalised almost three years ago, is facing charges including bribery, embezzlement, perjury and violating the law on transferring assets overseas.
Both Choi and Lee strongly deny any wrongdoing.