International Desk: Park Geun-hye, the now-former president of South Korea who this month was removed from office in a historic court ruling, was questioned at a prosecutors’ office on Tuesday in connection with allegations of bribery, extortion and abuse of office.
After what was expected to be a long, grueling interrogation of Ms. Park, which could continue past midnight, prosecutors will decide whether they have enough evidence to ask a court to issue a warrant for her arrest. If she is indicted, she will be the first former South Korean president to face trial since two former military dictators were imprisoned on corruption and mutiny charges in the mid-1990s.
“I am sorry to trouble the people,” Ms. Park told reporters gathered at the entrance of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. “I will respond faithfully to the investigation.”
Ms. Park, who was accompanied by lawyers, is the first former South Korean president to be questioned by prosecutors since 2009, when former President Roh Moo-hyun testified about corruption allegations involving his family.
Ms. Park’s 10-minute motorcade ride from her home in southern Seoul to the prosecutors’ office was nationally broadcast.
As the motorcade pulled out of her home, hundreds of people lined the alley leading to the two-story red brick house waving South Korean flags and shouting her name. “We love you!” some yelled as her black sedan passed.
The police formed a cordon to prevent the protesters from spilling onto the road. They had hauled away three people who had lain on the pavement, insisting that they could not let Ms. Park be questioned because she was innocent.
She faces allegations that she conspired with a longtime confidante named Choi Soon-sil to collect tens of millions of dollars from big businesses, including more than $38 million in bribes from Samsung. Both Ms. Choi and the top Samsung executive Lee Jae-yong have been arrested and indicted on bribery and a host of other criminal charges.
When they indicted Ms. Choi and Mr. Lee, prosecutors identified Ms. Park as a criminal accomplice.
On Dec. 9, the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted to impeach Ms. Park on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Her presidency was suspended upon the vote. On March 10, the Constitutional Court formally removed her from office by unanimously upholding the parliamentary impeachment.
Ms. Park was the first South Korean leader to be forced out of office in response to popular pressure since the country’s founding president, Syngman Rhee, fled into exile in Hawaii in 1960 after protests against his corrupt, authoritarian rule.
Since she took office in early 2013, Ms. Park had been dogged by allegations that Ms. Choi was influencing government affairs from the shadows — and using her connections with the president for personal gain.
Those long-suppressed allegations — journalists reporting them had been sued by Ms. Park’s aides — began shaking her government last fall, when a deluge of what prosecutors considered incriminating evidence began spilling out through local media and disgruntled former associates of Ms. Choi. A huge crowd of people, numbering up to 2 million, rallied in central Seoul every Saturday for months, demanding that she be removed from office.
Ms. Park had repeatedly apologized for the scandal.
But she has vehemently denied any legal wrongdoing, although most South Koreans considered her removal as a key step toward ending what they see as corrupt ties between government and big business, a bane of South Korea’s young democracy.
As president, Ms. Park had also refused to be questioned by prosecutors or testify at the Constitutional Court, calling her impeachment politically biased.
Now that she is a private citizen, she no longer enjoys the presidential privilege of immunity from criminal investigation. Still, she has remained defiant, refusing to accept the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
“It will take time, but I am sure that the truth will be known,” she said on March 12, when she moved out of the presidential Blue House, where she first lived when her father, Park Chung-hee, was the country’s dictator from 1961 to 1979.
She has since holed up in her home, consulting her lawyers ahead of the questioning by prosecutors. Outside, a small but loud group of supporters rallied daily to voice their support for her. Her supporters claim that “pro-North Korean” opposition politicians and media conspired to topple her presidency.
Two former presidents — the military dictators Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo — were questioned by prosecutors in 1995 on suspicion of bribery. The two men, former army generals, also faced sedition and mutiny charges for their roles in the 1979 military coup that brought them to power and in the 1980 massacre of antigovernment demonstrators in the southwestern city of Kwangju.
Mr. Chun was sentenced to death — the sentence was later commuted to life in prison — while Mr. Roh was sentenced to 17 years. Both were pardoned and released in December 1997.
Roh Moo-hyun, who faced prosecutors in 2009, was never indicted; deeply humiliated, he killed himself by jumping off a cliff behind his home in southern South Korea a few weeks after he was questioned by prosecutors in Seoul.
risingbd/DHAKA/Mar 21, 2017/Amirul