S. Korea’s Park to attend court on possible arrest

Associated Press

Seoul, South Korea — Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye has decided to attend a questioning session by a Seoul court before it determines whether she should be arrested over explosive corruption allegations, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Park’s lawyers have informed them that she will appear at the Seoul Central District Court on Thursday when a judge reviews whether to grant prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant against her.

If the court issues the warrant, Park will become the third former president to be arrested over criminal accusations after leaving office since South Korea turned from a dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s.

It would mark a stunning fall for South Korea’s first female president, who convincingly defeated her liberal opponent in 2012 thanks to overwhelming support from older voters who remembered her dictator father as a hero who lifted a war-torn nation from poverty, despite his brutal record of civilian oppression.

The court is expected to make a decision late Thursday or early Friday, according to court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan.

Prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for Park on Monday, six days after they grilled her over suspicions that she colluded with a jailed confidante to filch from companies and allowed the friend to secretly interfere with state affairs.

Park has apologized for putting trust in her friend, Choi Soon-sil, but has denied any legal wrongdoing.

Park’s powers were suspended in December after lawmakers passed an impeachment motion against her following weeks of protests by millions of people. A court formally removed her from office earlier this month, triggering a presidential by-election set for May 9.

Prosecutors believe Park has committed a broad range of crimes, including extortion, bribery, abuse of power and leaking government secrets. They have arrested a slew of government officials, presidential aides and businessmen, including a globally famous tycoon, Samsung’s de facto chief, Lee Jae-yong, over the past several months before bringing the investigation to Park.

Park is suspected of conspiring with Choi to pressure 16 business groups, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 billion won ($69 million) to two nonprofits that Choi controlled and used for personal profit. Prosecutors said the companies couldn’t refuse because they feared business disadvantages like state tax investigations.

Lee is suspected of using tens of millions of dollars in corporate funds to bribe Choi to obtain government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that promoted a father-to-son transfer of leadership and corporate wealth at the group. Prosecutors believe the money Samsung gave Choi could qualify as bribes provided to Park.

A bribery conviction alone would be punishable by a prison term of more than 10 years and possibly a life sentence, although prosecutors must clearly prove that Park and Choi were connected economically, legal experts say.