South Korean prosecutors on Monday sought to arrest Park Geun-hye, the country’s former president who was impeached in a historic ruling earlier this month, over a corruption scandal embroiling Park and her longtime confidante.
The special investigation headquarters of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, tasked with the probe into the scandal, said in a statement that concerns remained about an attempt to destroy evidence as Park denied most of criminal charges despite a number of collected evidences.
Park was removed from office on March 10 as the Constitutional Court upheld a motion to impeach Park. The first South Korean female leader became the first president ousted by impeachment.
State prosecutors, who took over the investigation from special prosecutors this month, summoned the disgraced leader last week for questioning, but she denied most of her wrongdoings.
The arrest warrant was formally delivered to a Seoul court, which would review evidences and decide whether the warrant can be justified. The decision would be made late Wednesday or early Thursday.
If issued, Park would become the third South Korean former leader to be taken into custody. Two former military strongmen were put behind bars in 1995 for charges of treason and corruption.
State and special prosecutors levied a total of 13 charges against Park, including bribery, abuse of power and the leakage of state secrets.
The statement said Park abused power by using her “powerful status and authority as president” to extort money and valuables from businesses and infringe on the liberty of corporate management, while leaking official secrets.
Park is accused of colluding with her decades-long friend Choi Soon-sil, who is now in custody, to solicit tens of millions of U.S. dollars in bribes from Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong who is also arrested.
The bribes were offered in return for getting assistance in the transfer of management control of Samsung Group to Vice Chairman Lee from his ailing father Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
The younger Lee, an heir apparent of the country’s biggest family-controlled conglomerate, has effectively taken the helm of Samsung since his father was hospitalized after a heart attack three years ago.
Choi is charged with extorting tens of millions of dollars from scores of conglomerates to establish two non-profit foundations she used for personal gains. Prosecutors already branded Park and Choi as criminal accomplices.
Choi, at the center of the influence-peddling scandal, is also suspected of receiving secret government documents from one of Park’s former secretaries on a regular basis to meddle in state affairs behind the scenes.
The prosecution office said it considered fairness in the decision to seek the arrest of Park given the detention of many of those implicated in the scandal including Choi, the Samsung heir and other government officials.
The decision is believed to have considered recent opinion polls, in which a majority of South Koreans demanded Park’s arrest. According to a Realmeter survey released on Thursday, 72.3 percent of South Koreans favored restricted prosecution of the former president.
A candlelight rally was held on Saturday night, and over 100,000 participants marched to the streets, chanting the slogan “Imprison Park Geun-hye.”
A presidential election is scheduled for May 9. The three-week campaign period is slated to kick off on April 17.
Concerns remain that if Park, dressed in prison uniform and handcuffed, appears on TV, it could cause backlashes from conservative politicians and voters and influence the election results.
Others claim Park’s arrest would have no effect on the upcoming election, in which one of progressive candidates is widely forecast to succeed Park, as the majority of people still want Park detained. Enditem