Ousted South Korean president’s graft trial begins tomorrow

SEOUL, May 22:  Handcuffed, her inmate number 503 attached to her clothing, former South Korean President Park Geun-hye begins her corruption trial tomorrow in the same courtroom where a brutal dictator was sentenced to death two decades ago.
Once the most powerful person in the country, Park will now face judgment over charges of extortion, bribery and abuse of power that could send her to jail for life.
The hearing in room No 417 of the Seoul Central District Court will be Park’s first public appearance since she was jailed in the early hours of March 31.
Her arrest came weeks after she was removed from office in a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which upheld the December impeachment by lawmakers after massive street protests over the corruption allegations began last October.
Prosecutors boast of having “overflowing” evidence proving her involvement in criminal activities. They accuse Park, South Korea’s first female president, of colluding with a friend of 40 years to take about USD 26 million from the country’s largest companies through bribery.
She also allegedly allowed her friend to manipulate state affairs from the shadows.
The scandal has led to the indictments of dozens of people, including former Cabinet ministers, senior presidential aides and billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, who is accused of bribing Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for business favors.
Park has apologised for putting trust in Choi but denied breaking any laws and accuses her opponents of framing her. Choi also denies wrongdoing.
She will join the former president in court tomorrow, and judge Kim Se-yoon is expected to decide whether to try them together or to split Park’s and Choi’s cases. Park’s lawyers have alleged the combined hearings could create bias.
Park has spent the past weeks locked in a small cell with a television, toilet, sink, table and mattress. She reportedly sees only a few visitors and her lawyers and mostly avoids television and newspapers. She avidly reads an English-Korean dictionary, according a report by a South Korean cable news channel, which cited an unnamed detention center source.
It is a stunning fall for a woman who won the 2012 presidential election by more than a million votes. She enjoyed overwhelming support from conservatives who recalled her dictator father lifting the nation from poverty in the 1960-70s; critics recall his severe human rights abuses.
As president, Park was criticized for what opponents saw as her imperial manner, her refusal to tolerate dissent, and her alleged mishandling of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The scandal involving Choi also destroyed Park’s carefully-crafted image as a selfless daughter of South Korea and inspired an angry public to push for her ouster and then elect Seoul’s first liberal government in a decade. (AGENCIES)


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