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South Korean Prosecutors Seek to Arrest Park Geun-hye

On Monday, prosecutors accused Ms. Park of conspiring with a longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars from big businesses, including more than $ 38 million in bribes from Samsung. Both Ms. Choi and Samsung’s top executive, Lee Jae-yong, have been arrested and indicted on a number of charges, including bribery.

When they indicted Ms. Choi and Mr. Lee, prosecutors had already identified Ms. Park as a criminal accomplice.

“The suspect abused her power by using her tremendous status and authority as president to help collect funds from businesses,” prosecutors said in a statement on Monday explaining why they thought she needed to be arrested. “Although there have been a number of pieces of evidence collected, the suspect has denied most of them, and there is a danger of her destroying incriminating evidence if she is not arrested.”

Kim Sung-won, a spokesman for the Liberty Korea Party, to which Ms. Park belongs, called the prosecutors’ decision to seek her arrest “regrettable.”

But the opposition Democratic Party said it was “historic.” The party said it would be only fair to arrest Ms. Park because Mr. Lee of Samsung was already under arrest. Ms. Park was named by prosecutors as an accomplice when Mr. Lee was arrested.

“Former President Park has never properly acknowledged or apologized for the abusive manipulation of government affairs by her and her associates,” said Youn Kwan-suk, a Democratic Party spokesman.

South Korea’s political parties are in the middle of primary races to select their candidates for a presidential election on May 9.

The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 9 to impeach Ms. Park on charges of corruption and abuse of power, and she was formally removed from office on March 10.

Ms. Park was the first South Korean leader to be forced from office in response to popular pressure since the country’s founding president, Syngman Rhee, fled into exile in Hawaii in 1960 after protests against his corrupt, authoritarian rule.

Since she took office in early 2013, Ms. Park had been dogged by allegations that Ms. Choi was influencing government affairs from the shadows — and using her connections with the president for personal gain. On Monday, Ms. Park was also accused of leaking secret government documents to Ms. Choi, who had no clearance for handling them, to help her influence state affairs for her personal benefit.

Those long-suppressed allegations — journalists reporting them had been sued by Ms. Park’s aides — began shaking her government last fall, when a deluge of what prosecutors considered incriminating evidence began spilling out through the local news media and disgruntled former associates of Ms. Choi. Huge crowds rallied in central Seoul every Saturday for months, demanding that Ms. Park be removed from office.

Ms. Park has apologized repeatedly for the scandal.

She has vehemently denied any legal wrongdoing, although most South Koreans consider her removal a crucial step toward ending what they see as corrupt ties between government and big business, a bane of South Korea’s young democracy.

As president, Ms. Park also refused to be questioned by prosecutors or testify at the Constitutional Court, calling the impeachment politically biased.

Now that she is a private citizen, she no longer enjoys the presidential privilege of immunity from criminal investigation. Still, she has remained defiant, refusing to accept the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

“It will take time, but I am sure that the truth will be known,” she said on March 12, when she moved out of the presidential Blue House, where she first lived when her father, Park Chung-hee, was the country’s dictator from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.

Two former presidents — the military dictators Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo — were questioned by prosecutors in 1995 on suspicion of bribery. The two men, former army generals, also faced sedition and mutiny charges for their roles in the 1979 military coup that brought them to power and in the 1980 massacre of antigovernment demonstrators in the southwestern city of Gwangju.

Mr. Chun was sentenced to death — the sentence was later commuted to life in prison — while Mr. Roh was sentenced to 17 years. Both were pardoned and released in December 1997.

Source: NYT > World

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