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Park Geun-hye

South Korea prosecutors charge ousted president Park and Lotte chief with bribery

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 11:17pm

South Korean prosecutors on Monday charged ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin with bribery in the latest twist to a corruption scandal that rocked the country for months.

Prosecutors charged Shin without detaining him.

The probe by prosecutors has already convulsed the biggest conglomerate, Samsung Group, with its heir apparent Lee Jae-yong under arrest for bribing Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil. All three are being held at detention centres.

Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with Choi to receive 7 billion won (US$6.16 million) from Lotte for favours, they said in a statement. Park was also charged with abuse of power and coercion by pressuring big businesses to contribute funds to non-profit foundations, the prosecutors said.

Lotte has denied allegations that it made improper deals with Park, or those linked to her, for favours. Park, Lee, Choi and Samsung Group have also denied wrongdoing.

Park, 65, was elected South Korea’s first female president in late 2012. The country will now watch as she is forced to stand in court while handcuffed, bound with rope and possibly dressed in prison garb.

If convicted, her bribery charge carries the biggest legal punishment, ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.

While deeply unpopular among many South Koreans, Park still has supporters, and some conservative politicians and media outlets are already demanding that authorities pardon her if she’s convicted.

South Korea pardoned two of its convicted former leaders in the late 1990s in a bid for national reconciliation amid financial crisis, and its court had until recently showed leniency toward punishing corrupt business tycoons because of worries about hurting the economy.

Though surveys show a majority of South Koreans backed Park’s removal from office and arrest, some of her last-remaining ultra-conservative supporters still stage rallies in downtown Seoul every weekend.

Watch: Park Geun-hye removed from office

Such rallies could pressure whoever becomes her successor. The new leader will also face increasing North Korean nuclear threats and diverse economic woes.

Park’s scandal triggered huge political turmoil in South Korea, with millions taking to the streets to call for her ouster for months before her supporters launched their own protests.

Park and Choi allegedly conspired with one of Park’s top presidential adviser to pressure 18 business groups, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 billion won (US$69 million) for the launch of two non-profit foundations controlled by Choi. Prosecutors also accuse Park and Choi of taking bribes from Samsung and Lotte and blacklisting artists critical of Park’s government to deny them state support.

Park has denied any legal wrongdoing, arguing that she only got help from Choi to edit some presidential speeches and on public relations.

Park is the daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee, one of the most divisive figures in South Korean history. Some recall him as an enormous human rights abuser while others credit him for spearheading a rapid economic rise in the 1960-70s. Critics say Park’s 2012 election wouldn’t have happened without conservatives’ nostalgia for her father.

Park Chung-hee’s iron-fisted 18-year rule ended after he was gunned down by his spy chief in 1979, five years after his wife was killed during an assassination attempt that originally targeted her husband.

Park Geun-hye once described Choi, 60, as someone who helped her when she had difficulties in the past, an apparent reference to her parents’ deaths.

Reuters, Associated Press