Park Geun-hye, the former president of South Korea, who is currently facing allegations of bribery and leaking government secrets, appeared for a criminal trial in court early on Tuesday.
Park Geun-hye, former president of South Korea, center, is escorted by prison officers as she arrives at the
Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, May 23, 2017 (Photo:Bloomberg/Getty Images)
South Korea’s former president, Park Geun-hye, has denied corruption charges at the start of a criminal trial that could send the country’s first female leader to prison for life.
Prosecutors accuse Park of abusing her power and colluding with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure major South Korean companies such as Samsung into paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes in return for business favours.
Park’s secretive and allegedly corrupt relationship with Choi, along with wider revelations about the cozy ties between South Korea’s political and economic elites, sparked mass protests, ending in Park’s impeachment last December and her removal from office by a constitutional court ruling in March.
Earlier this month, the country elected Moon Jae-in, a left-leaning liberal, by a landslide in an election called after Park’s indictment. Moon, a former human rights lawyer, has vowed to punish leaders of the country’s chaebol conglomerates found guilty of committing crimes, and to challenge the collusive relationship between politics and big business.
Police had escorted Park, in handcuffs, into court for her first public appearance since she was jailed last month over the corruption allegations.
The 65-year-old daughter of the former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee wore a dark blue suit with a badge showing her inmate number, 503. She showed little emotion in court, her eyes staring straight ahead.
When Judge Kim Se-yun asked Park what her occupation was, she replied: “I don’t have any occupation.”
Choi, her longtime confidante and alleged co-conspirator, sat near Park. The two women had been friends for four decades but did not acknowledge each other.
“The accused Park Geun-hye, in collusion with her friend Choi Soon-sil, let Choi, who had no official position, intervene in state affairs … and they abused power and pressured business companies to offer bribes, thus taking private gains,” senior prosecutor Lee Won-seok told the court.
“The accused deny even the most basic facts, but the charges are fully supported by material evidence and testimonies.”
Park has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty at the trial. Asked if she had anything to add, Park said: “I will say afterwards.”
Park is facing a 120,000-page charge sheet, according to South Korean media, and a total of 18 charges.
The scandal has ensnared senior government officials and business leaders, including Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of Samsung, from whom she is alleged to have taken about 29.8bn won (£20.5m) in bribes in return for favours that aided Lee’s rise to the top of the company.
Lee has denied the charges against him. On Tuesday, Park’s lawyer, Yoo Yeong-ha, told the court: “There was no reason for President Park to force companies to donate money which she was unable to use for herself.”
Choi sobbed as she answered questions about her address and occupation. Park stared straight ahead as prosecutors read out the charges.
Choi reportedly said in court: “I am a sinner for forcing former President Park, who I have known and watched for 40 years, to appear in a courtroom.” Choi said her friend was not the type of person who could be bribed, adding, “I hope this trial truly frees former President Park of fault and lets her be remembered as a president who lived a life devoted to her country.”
Kim, the judge, said the court decided to combine Park’s and Choi’s cases, and set the next hearing for Thursday.
After the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Park, again in handcuffs, did not speak to reporters as police put her back on the bus to return to the detention centre near Seoul where she is being held.
One spectator, Lee Jae-bong, 70, told a pool reporter: “I am here to witness a new chapter of history being unfurled … I think Park must be punished thoroughly and never be pardoned so that such a bad thing may never happen again.”
Park’s arrest came weeks after she was removed from office in a ruling by the constitutional court, which upheld her December impeachment by politicians after massive street protests over the corruption allegations that emerged last October.
Prosecutors boast of having “overflowing” evidence proving Park’s involvement in criminal activities. They say she colluded with Choi to take about $26m in bribes from Samsung and was promised tens of millions of dollars more from Samsung and other large companies. Park also allegedly allowed her friend to manipulate state affairs from the shadows.
A spokesman from the presidential Blue House said the office had no official statement to make on Park’s trial. The scandal has led to the indictments of dozens of people, including former cabinet ministers, senior presidential aides and business leaders.
Park has apologised for her “naivety” in placing her trust in Choi, but denied breaking any laws and accuses her opponents of framing her. Choi also denies any wrongdoing.
Source: The Guardian UK