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Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye Faces Arrest Warrant -- 2nd Update

27 Mar 2017 4:15 am
By Jonathan Cheng and Min Sun Lee 

SEOUL--South Korean prosecutors said they would seek an arrest warrant for former President Park Geun-hye, just 17 days after she was removed from office as part of a wide-ranging political scandal that caused her to be impeached.

Ms. Park, who was subjected to a marathon round of questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday of last week, has been accused by prosecutors of abusing her presidential powers to help a longtime friend extort money from some of the country's biggest business empires, including the Samsung conglomerate.

On Monday, prosecutors alleged that Ms. Park used her power and position as president to interfere in the management of private companies, and that she leaked confidential state secrets to her friend, Choi Soon-sil, who has been in custody while facing trial on charges of extortion and abuse of power.

"We fear that she may further destroy evidence," prosecutors said on Monday, adding that it wasn't fair for Ms. Park to remain free while Ms. Choi and other former public officials and business leaders implicated in the scandal remained in custody. Ms. Park's lawyer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, Ms. Park has denied wrongdoing.

A South Korean judge will review the evidence later this week and decide whether to grant the arrest warrant. If granted, Ms. Park would be immediately confined to a prison cell while prosecutors seek a formal indictment against her. A trial would follow.

The decision to seek an arrest warrant for Ms. Park comes just days after the ferryboat Sewol was lifted from the bottom of the sea off the southwest coast of South Korea, nearly three years after it sank.

The sinking of the Sewol, which killed more than 300 people--many of them high-school students on a field trip--was a defining moment in Ms. Park's tenure.

Investigators have concluded that the incident was a man-made disaster and the captain of the ship was sentenced in 2015 to life in prison. But Ms. Park has also been castigated for her apparent inaction in the hours immediately following the sinking. Her handling of the incident became a key rallying cry in the protests that led to her downfall.

Ms. Park, the daughter of South Korea's longest-serving president, took office in 2013, but was stripped of her powers after an impeachment vote in December, amid mounting allegations of her role in the scandal.

The country's Constitutional Court earlier this month formally removed Ms. Park from office, triggering a snap election and stripping Ms. Park of her presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. She was questioned for more than 20 hours by prosecutors last week.

Ms. Park's deep unpopularity has left her ruling conservative party reeling in the run-up to the snap election, which is slated for May 9. The front-runner is Moon Jae-in, a former opposition lawmaker who lost the 2012 presidential race to Ms. Park.

Last month, Samsung's de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, was arrested on multiple allegations including bribery, embezzlement and perjury. Prosecutors say Mr. Lee approved corporate donations to foundations controlled by Ms. Choi in return for political favors.

An initial request by prosecutors for an arrest warrant against Mr. Lee was originally rejected by a court, but a second request was granted. Mr. Lee was indicted and is currently undergoing trial.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 27, 2017 00:15 ET (04:15 GMT)

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