South Korea's Former Leader Park Arrested Over Bribery Scandal

  • Park is suspected of colluding to seek bribes from companies
  • Former leader was ousted on March 10, denies wrongdoing

South Korea's Former Leader Arrested Over Bribery Scandal

South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye was arrested early Friday after a court ordered her detention barely three weeks after she was ousted for alleged corruption.

The Seoul Central District Court granted the warrant following a hearing on Thursday, citing concern that Park could destroy evidence. The former leader, who was waiting for the court decision at the prosecutors’ office, was taken to the Seoul Detention Center where Samsung’s Jay Y. Lee and Park’s long-time friend Choi Soon-sil are being held.

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The court said in a text message that there was “reason and necessity” to arrest Park. "Major allegations were explained and proved and there were concerns over evidence destruction,” the court said.

Her detention is the latest milestone in a corruption scandal that has gripped the nation for months, leading to her removal from office and raising questions over connections between the government and large conglomerates in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. Park, 65, has denied wrongdoing.

Read more on why Park was deposed and arrested

Prosecutors will have as many as 19 days to consider whether to indict the former leader, who is suspected of pressuring top business executives to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations run by her confidante Choi in return for government favors.

Park is also alleged to have leaked state secrets and colluded with Choi to seek bribes from Samsung Group’s heir apparent Jay Y. Lee in return for business favors. Choi and Lee are in detention as their trials proceed, and both deny wrongdoing. If convicted of bribery, Park would face at least 10 years in prison.

Government attorneys requested the arrest warrant on Monday, citing the gravity of Park’s alleged crimes and the risk that she could destroy evidence. Prosecutors questioned her for 14 hours on March 21, after her ouster earlier in the month took away her immunity from prosecution.

It’s unclear how Park’s arrest may affect voter sentiment before an election to replace her on May 9. Left-leaning candidates including Moon Jae-in -- Park’s main opponent when she won office in 2012 -- are leading in polls and supported her detention.

‘Painful History’

Moon’s chief spokesman said in the Democratic Party candidate’s blog that Park’s arrest will help South Korea clean up its image and turn the page of its “painful history.” A spokesman for People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, who is second in the latest poll, said in a text message that Park “brought on her own fate by lying and failing to show remorse.” Hong Joon-pyo, a candidate for Park’s Liberty Korea Party, urged people to forgive her.

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Koreans have seen their leaders sent to prison before. In the 1990s, Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to death and Roh Tae-woo received a 22 1/2-year term after the pair were found guilty of creating slush funds and inciting a coup. Both were later pardoned.

Another former president, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide in 2009 after prosecutors began a bribery probe.

— With assistance by Peter Pae, Shinhye Kang, and Seyoon Kim

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