Ousted leader Park in court at start of trial

Elias Hubbard
May 24, 2017

A high-flying prosecutor, who was demoted under impeached former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, is overseeing the case against her, as Park yesterday made her first appearance in court to face criminal charges over the corruption scandal that ousted her.

Park's trial begins Tuesday at the Seoul Central District Court and is likely to last for several months. After her father's state funeral, Park Geun-hye leaves the Blue House.

She responded: "I don't have any occupation".

When she was elected in 2012 as South Korea's first female president, Park secured the highest vote share of any candidate in the country's democratic era.

Once the most powerful person in the country, Park will now face judgment over charges of extortion and abuse of power that could send her to jail for life.

Cosy and corrupt ties between South Korea's business and political elites have endured for decades.

Park yesterday denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty on the first day of the arguments. Lee, Samsung's de facto chief, is under suspicion of using 43.3 billion won ($39 million) in corporate funds to sponsor companies, sports organizations and nonprofits controlled by Choi.

The most damning allegation is that Park and Choi took tens of millions of dollars in bribes from Samsung, the country's largest business group. But Park stared straight ahead as prosecutors read out the charges.

Park met Samsung's Lee in July 2015 and told him she hoped the succession at the world's biggest smartphone maker "would be resolved smoothly under her government", asking him to support the foundations, according to prosecutor Hwang Woong-Jae. Park also allegedly allowed her friend to manipulate state affairs from the shadows. This could be seen as a sign of her residual bitterness with her longtime friend.

Her denial of the charges will come as no surprise to onlookers as the former leader's legal team had already done so on her behalf during two preliminary sessions. Park is to commute from the detention center to the Seoul court during the trial. The next hearing was set for Thursday.

Courtroom 417 was packed, with spectator Lee Jae-Bong, 70, telling AFP: "I am here to witness a new chapter of history being unfurled". Park's lawyers have alleged the combined hearings could create bias.

Park is the country's third former president to stand trial over corruption allegations after Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo who were convicted in 1996-97.

1974: Park's mother is shot and killed by an ethnic Korean from Japan, claiming orders from then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, while Park Chung-hee was making a speech at a Seoul theatre. She becomes an icon of South Korean conservatives. Following Park's ouster, some politicians argued for constitutional changes to curb presidential powers.

Park rose to the presidency largely on the back of his continuing popularity among older voters who had benefited from rapid economic growth under his tenure. Their sentences were reduced later to life imprisonment and 17 years respectively, and two years later, they were released.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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