Former South Korean leader formally indicted
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s recently impeached and ousted president, Park Geun-hye, was formally indicted Monday on charges of collecting or demanding $52 million in bribes, becoming the first leader put on criminal trial since the mid-1990s, when two former militarybacked presidents were imprisoned for corruption and mutiny.
Prosecutors arrested Ms. Park on 13 criminal charges in March. They have questioned her five times in her jail cell outside Seoul. In the indictment Monday, the number of criminal charges against Ms. Park — who was elected South Korea’s first female president in late 2012 — increased to 18, including bribery, coercion, abuse of office and illegal leaking of government secrets.
The indictment, a widely expected follow-up to Ms. Park’s arrest, will prompt the Seoul Central District Court to open a trial. The court is expected to assign the case to a three-judge panel soon.
The judges will then set the date for the first hearing in what will become the biggest court trial since former military dictator Chun Doo-hwan was sentenced to death and his friend and successor, Roh Tae-woo, was sentenced to 22½ years in prison on bribery, mutiny and sedition charges in 1996. (Their sentences were later reduced, and they were pardoned and released in 1997.)
Months of political turmoil and intrigue, set into motion when huge crowds began gathering in central Seoul in the fall to demand Ms. Park’s resignation, were capped by a Constitutional Court ruling in early March that formally removed her from office.
The National Assembly had voted in December to impeach her on charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power.
The corruption scandal implicated the leadership of Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, and other big businesses.
The coercion charge against Ms. Park stems from $68 million that she and a longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, were accused of extorting from big businesses in the form of “donations” to two foundations that Ms. Choi controlled.
But a more damning charge against Ms. Park and Ms. Choi was bribery. The $52 million they were accused of collecting or demanding in bribes from businesses included $38 million in bribes or promised bribes from Samsung. Ms. Choi and the company’s top executive, Lee Jae-yong, were also under arrest and on trial.
On Monday, prosecutors also charged Ms. Park and Ms. Choi with demanding bribes worth $6.2 million from the retail conglomerate Lotte and $7.8 million from the telecommunications and semiconductor conglomerate SK. Shin Dong-bin, the chairman of Lotte, was indicted on bribery charges on Monday. But Mr. Shin, who was already on trial on tax evasion and embezzlement charges stemming from a separate corruption scandal, was not arrested.
Ms. Park has denied the charges against her, arguing that she was victimized by her political enemies.