South Korean court to mull im­peach­ment, rul­ing party split

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: South Korea’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court will to­day start hear­ings into whether to con­firm the im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye, with her rul­ing con­ser­va­tive party deeply split on the is­sue be­fore a likely fresh elec­tion.

The court has up to 180 days to de­cide whether to up­hold or re­ject par­lia­ment’s im­peach­ment of the coun­try’s first fe­male pres­i­dent on charges rang­ing from bribery to abuse of power.

Park has been sus­pended from her du­ties since the im­peach­ment vote on De­cem­ber 9, with the prime min­is­ter tak­ing over. If the judges back im­peach­ment af­ter hear­ing from both sides, she will be for­mally ousted and a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion held within 60 days. But any split in the Saenuri Party would dras­ti­cally re­duce its chances in such a poll.

More than 30 Saenuri law­mak­ers who have been at odds with Park have vowed to leave, ar­gu­ing that the party’s cur­rent lead­er­ship re­fuses to em­brace re­forms de­spite the cor­rup­tion scan­dal and im­peach­ment cri­sis. “We’ve reached a con­clu­sion that con­ser­va­tives’ re­form through the Saenuri Party is im­pos­si­ble”, prom­i­nent law­maker Yoo Se­ung-Min told jour­nal­ists.

A split would also com­pli­cate any po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial run by out­go­ing UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-Moon, who had been widely ex­pected to com­pete on the Saenuri ticket.

Break­ing away

Thirty-five law­mak­ers have agreed to break away from the party on De­cem­ber 27, the dis­si­dent group said, adding they will try to per­suade more leg­is­la­tors to join them. Their de­par­ture will leave the party with some 90 law­mak­ers in the 300-seat par­lia­ment, rel­e­gat­ing it to sec­ond place be­hind the left-lean­ing Demo­cratic Party.

The group crossed party lines to join op­po­si­tion par­ties in pass­ing the mo­tion to im­peach Park.

Park is ac­cused of col­lud­ing with her con­fi­dante Choi Soon-Sil to co­erce large com­pa­nies like Sam­sung into hand­ing over tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to two du­bi­ous foun­da­tions which Choi al­legedly con­trolled and plun­dered.

Park is also ac­cused of or­der­ing aides to leak state doc­u­ments to Choi, who has no of­fi­cial ti­tle or se­cu­rity clear­ance, and al­low­ing her to med­dle in state af­fairs in­clud­ing the ap­point­ment of top of­fi­cials.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors on Wednesday raided the state-run Na­tional Pen­sion Ser­vice in a widen­ing probe into the scan­dal. A spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Sam­sung bribed Choi to win state ap­proval for a con­tro­ver­sial merger of two of its units last year.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also said they had sought an ar­rest war­rant for Choi’s daugh­ter Jeong Yu-Ra, who is now in Europe. Sam­sung, on top of a huge sum it gave to Choi’s foun­da­tions, al­legedly trans­ferred mil­lions more dol­lars to a Choi pa­per com­pany in Germany un­der the pre­text of sup­port­ing Jeong’s eques­trian train­ing.

The merger of Sam­sung units Cheil In­dus­tries and Sam­sung C&T last year was seen as a cru­cial step to en­sure a smooth fa­ther-to-son power trans­fer to Lee Jae-Yong, scion of Sam­sung’s found­ing fam­ily.

It was crit­i­cized by many, who said it wil­fully un­der­val­ued Sam­sung C&T shares. But the Na­tional Pen­sion Ser­vice a ma­jor Sam­sung share­holder-voted in favour of the deal, which even­tu­ally went through. The NPS over­sees 543 tril­lion won ($461 bil­lion) in funds, mak­ing it the world’s third largest pub­lic pen­sion fund.

Its of­fices were raided last month by dif­fer­ent pros­e­cu­tors, who also searched Sam­sung Group of­fices. The spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor has taken over the case against Choi from state pros­e­cu­tors. She has been for­mally charged with abuse of power and ex­tor­tion.

SEOUL: Choi Soon-Sil (C), who has been dubbed Korea’s “fe­male Rasputin” for the in­flu­ence she wielded over the now-impeached pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye, ar­rives at a court­room for her trial at the Seoul Cen­tral District Court on De­cem­ber 19, 2016.

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