SEOUL – South Korea’s former leader Park Geun Hye arrived at a Seoul court on Tuesday (May 23) to stand trial on bribery charges over a corruption scandal that brought down her presidency.
Park faces more than 10 years in jail if found guilty of taking bribes from business leaders, one of the key accusations that led to her impeachment, making her the country’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office.
Park has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to plead not guilty at the trial.
In her first public appearance since she was arrested in March, Park arrived at court in a blue correctional services van about an hour before proceedings were due to start at 0100 GMT (9am Singapore).
Park was handcuffed and wore a navy pantsuit, her hair held back in a haphazard bun and her face had little sign of make-up.
Many Park supporters could be seen waving the national flag and shouting her name near a gate to the court grounds. Media showed roughly 100 supporters demanding her freedom at the entrance of the correctional facility where Park has been held.
The first day of arguments on Tuesday comes two weeks after the election of President Moon Jae In, who has promised to get tough on chaebol bosses who commit crimes.
At the court hearing, Park and Choi Soon Sil, the friend she is accused of colluding with to solicit money, are likely to be reunited for the first time since the scandal erupted in public in late October. Choi has also rejected the bribery charges.
Park was arrested on March 31, three weeks after she was removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling and after a warrant judge decided she posed a flight risk and was likely to tamper with evidence.
The controversy surrounding her secretive lifestyle and eccentric personality has not ended with her departure from the presidential Blue House.
An animal rights group has filed a complaint with the police against her for abandoning nine dogs she left behind in the presidential compound.
Media reports have said she spent her time in her prison cell reading the English dictionary and keeping away from the news available for inmates.
She is believed to have been kept away from the head of the Samsung conglomerates, Lee Jae Yong, one of the business leaders accused of paying into the funds set up to back Park’s policies.
Park’s lawyer did not respond to telephone calls and text messages seeking comment, and the Seoul Detention Center declined to comment citing the inmate’s privacy.
The Seoul Central District Court held a lottery last week for the 68 seats available for the public, drawing more than 500 people, most of them young people in their 20s and 30s.
Heo Go Eun, a 22-year-old university music major said she had cut her classes that day to enter the lottery.
“This will remain a page in history and I wanted to see for myself Park on trial,” said Heo, adding she had participated in the candlelight rallies last year that drew millions of South Koreans to the street in peaceful protests.
“So many people are just happy Park has been impeached, that she has already paid the price for her crimes but this is just the beginning.” – Reuters