+ A

Prosecutors ask to arrest former President Park

Warrant hearing has never been held for an ex-leader of Korea
Mar 28,2017
이미지뷰
Park Geun-hye
이미지뷰
Reporters question Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam, center, as he arrives for work at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in southern Seoul Monday morning. [WOO SANG-JO]
Prosecutors applied for a warrant to take former President Park Geun-hye into custody to investigate and prosecute her over allegations that she received bribes and abused her presidential power.

A special investigation team of the prosecution said Monday morning that it submitted a warrant application to the Seoul Central District Court.

“The decision serves law and principles,” it said. “Before making the decision, the team thoroughly reviewed the outcome of the initial probe by prosecutors, the records of an independent counsel and the prosecution’s questioning of Park last week.”

Park was impeached in December by the National Assembly over a series of corruption and abuse of power allegations. The Constitutional Court terminated her presidency on March 10, 2017, lifting the presidential immunity that shielded her from criminal prosecution. She was questioned by prosecutors for 22 hours on March 21.

The warrant hearing will take place at the Seoul Central District Court at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Judge Kang Bu-yeong will rule. Park’s presence is not required by law.

If the court issues a warrant, the prosecution will take custody of Park. It will have to indict her within 20 days of detention.

Park, the first president to be ousted by impeachment, is also the first former president to face a warrant hearing. Although the prosecution sought detention warrants against two former presidents, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, in 1995, the country did not have a warrant hearing system at the time.

The prosecution said Monday that it wants to detain Park because of the possibility of evidence destruction. “The charges she is facing are grave,” the prosecution said. “Until now, much evidence was collected, but the suspect is denying most of the charges. There is a concern that she will destroy evidence in the future.”

“The suspect abused the enormous power and prestige of the president and received bribes and infringed upon the management of businesses,” the prosecution said. “She also leaked important secrets obtained during the course of her public duties.”

Park is facing 13 charges through an initial investigation by the prosecution and an independent counsel probe that concluded in February.

Prosecutors also said it is only fair to detain Park because her accomplice Choi Soon-sil and other public servants involved in the corruption and abuse of power scandals were being detained. The prosecution reminded the court that the suspected briber, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, was also detained. They are all undergoing trials.

As of now, about 20 suspects are being detained in the scandal.

The prosecution initially concluded that Park was a co-conspirator of her friend Choi. At the time, prosecutors accused Park and Choi of coercing companies to pay massive donations to two nonprofit foundations that they jointly controlled. Independent counsel Park Young-soo added allegations of bribery and handed over unfinished cases to the prosecution.

The independent counsel probe prompted a bribery investigation involving Park, Choi and the country’s largest conglomerates. It indicted Samsung leader Lee on charges of offering 43.3 billion won ($38.9 million) in bribes to Park through Choi, and prosecutors are now looking into other companies including SK and Lotte. Depending on the conclusion of the probe, the total amount of bribes Park allegedly took could reach 100 billion won.

The prosecutors used the bribery charges in its warrant application. “The special investigation team concluded that it can prove the bribery charge based on the testimonies and evidence collected by the independent counsel,” a prosecution source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The total amount of bribes would change based on the future investigation.”

Bribery is punished heavily under the criminal justice system, and Park may face a lifetime jail term if she is convicted of the Samsung bribery alone. “Where the amount of the accepted bribe is not less than 100 million won, the person shall be punished by imprisonment with labor for an indefinite term or by imprisonment with labor for not less than 10 years,” the law on aggravated punishment on bribery says.

In a bribery case, the party who received a bribe is punished more heavily than the party who offered it.

Whether Park is detained or not is likely to become a volatile issue in the political arena, as campaigns for the May 9, 2017, presidential election are intensifying. The parties will decide candidates in early April; candidate registration will take place from April 14 to 16. The official presidential campaign will begin on April 17.

Park will likely be questioned further and prosecuted before the official campaign period begins. Any trial, however, is not likely to start until after the election, taking into account the political sensitivity of the issue.

While opposition parties and their presidential contenders supported the prosecution, the Liberty Korea Party, of which Park is still a member, said the decision was regretted.

“This is like giving poison to a woman who was kicked out of the palace and is shedding tears at home,” Rep. Kim Jin-tae, a Park loyalist, said. “Park was already dismissed in disgrace and humiliation, and they now want to handcuff her and put her in prison. This is no different from digging up a corpse and beheading it.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]