South Korea’s disgraced former president Park Geun-hye was arrested and jailed on Friday over high-profile corruption allegations that already ended her tumultuous four-year rule and prompted an election to find her successor.
Park, 65, became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office after dramatic fall of power. She is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses to contribute funds to foundations that backed her policy initiatives.
A group of vehicles, including a black sedan carrying Park, entered a detention facility near Seoul after the Seoul Central District Court granted prosecutors’ request to arrest her.
However she and Choi, who is already in custody and on trial, deny any wrongdoing.
But several fans of Park waved national flags and shouted “president” as Park’s car entered the facility.
Park and her lawyers had argued that she should not be arrested because she did not pose a flight risk and would not try to tamper with evidence. But the court disagreed, and said she might try to manipulate evidence.
Park’s removal from office capped months of paralysis and turmoil over the corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest “chaebol”, or family-run conglomerate, in detention and on trial.
Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoing. The allegations led millions of South Koreans to protest in the streets every weekend for months before lawmakers impeached her in December and the Constitutional Court ruled in March to formally remove her from office.
Park’s impeachment on March 10, which upheld a parliamentary vote in December, effectively left a political vacuum with only an interim president in place before a snap May 9 election.
Liberal opposition politician Moon Jae-in is leading in opinion polls and is expected to win that election.
Moon’s spokesman, Park Kwang-on, said in a statement. that “The arrest of the former president Park amounts to upholding the people’s stern order to build a country where justice and common sense stand firm.”
“It is the first step to rebuilding a collapsed Republic of Korea,” Park Kwang-on said, using South Korea’s official name.
She could face more than 10 years in jail if convicted of receiving bribes from chaebol bosses, including Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee, in return for favors.
Lee, who denies charges that he provided bribes in return for favors for Samsung, is in detention in the same facility as Park and on trial separately.
After several preliminary hearings, Lee’s trial will begin on April 7.