Americans looking with confusion and shock at the state of our own political system may take solace in the madness happening in South Korea, one of our closest allies, where the country’s former president was just arrested.
The bizarre political scandal surrounding former President Park Geun-hye started in late 2016 and ultimately resulted in Park’s impeachment and dismissal from her post earlier this month. It was the first time that a democratically elected president had been removed from office in South Korea.
Now Park is also the first democratically elected South Korean leader to be put behind bars.
Early Friday morning local time, the Seoul District Court approved a warrant for Park’s arrest on 13 charges including bribery, abuse of power and leaking confidential information. Park had spent the night in the prosecutor’s office waiting to learn if she would be arrested. When the warrant was issued around 3 am, she was taken to a jail just outside of Seoul, according to the New York Times.
The most serious charge is bribery, a crime punishable by “life in prison or a term for more than 10 years,” according to the Korea Herald, one of South Korea’s largest English newspapers.
Park has denied the allegations.
When Park was still president, she was able to avoid questioning and refused investigators entry into her office because of immunity from prosecution granted to sitting South Korean presidents. But now that she has been impeached, she is considered a private citizen and is subject to questioning and arrest.
A brief review of the bizarre political scandal that led to Park’s impeachment
The heart of the scandal involves Park’s relationship with her lifelong friend and confidant Choi Soon-sil. Choi, a private citizen who had no government title or security clearance but worked closely with the president, has already been arrested and is on trial. Choi is accused of coercing $70 million in bribes from big businesses and promising that they would receive favorable treatment from Park’s government.
When South Korean constitutional court judges ruled in favor of Park’s impeachment on March 10, they said she had broken the law by allowing Choi to meddle in state affairs and violating the constitution. “These violations undermine the rule law and a representative democracy,” said Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi.
Choi is also accused of colluding with Samsung’s top executive, Lee Jae-yong, and receiving more than $38 million in bribes from the South Korean technology giant. Lee has also been arrested and is on trial for bribery charges. Both Choi and Lee have denied wrongdoing and are currently detained in a facility outside of Seoul, the capital city. When they were arrested in February, prosecutors identified former President Park as a criminal accomplice.
Park’s arrest is yet another blow to South Korea, a country that is already dealing with questions over its future relationship with the United States under President Trump, economic and political tensions with China, and concerns about recent North Korean missile tests.