(News Focus) Park faces tough legal battle over corruption allegations
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- The Constitutional Court's ruling on Friday may close a turbulent chapter of Korea's political history but for Park Geun-hye, the disgraced president, it is only the beginning in earnest of a long legal battle over a barrage of corruption allegations.
The stunning fall of the country's first female president began in late October, as suspicions surfaced that her decadeslong friend Choi Soon-sil received and edited drafts of presidential speeches before they were made public.
Media reports revealed that Choi had been allegedly meddling in state affairs and amassing profits using her ties with the president. Park, though denying charges, has been accused of colluding with Choi in extorting money from conglomerates.
In the months when the influence-peddling scandal gripped the country and paralyzed her government, dozens of former presidential aides and ministerial-level officials were brought to trials and the heads of the country's major conglomerates were grilled by prosecutors.
This combined photo shows Choi Soon-sil (R), a close friend of President Park Geun-hye and key figure in an influence-peddling scandal that led to the president's impeachment, shouting to reporters after arriving at the independent counsel team's office in Seoul on Jan. 25, 2017. She told reporters, "The special counsel's team is no longer democratic," claiming, "They have been forcing me to confess that I colluded with President Park." In stark contrast, Choi (L) said, "I committed a sin that deserves death," on Oct. 31, 2016, when she appeared at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office after being summoned for questioning. (Yonhap)
Samsung Group's de facto leader Lee Jae-yong was arrested, and indicted for bribery and embezzlement.
The vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. is accused of giving or promising 43.3 billion won (US$38.3 million) in kickbacks to Choi in return for the government's backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.
The business merger was seen as critical to the smooth management succession of the group from ailing Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee to his only son Jae-yong.
An independent counsel team, which looked into the massive scandal, concluded that President Park was an accomplice in the alleged wrongdoing. She has been pleading her innocence.
Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives at the independent counsel team's office in southern Seoul on Feb. 22, 2017, to undergo an interrogation. (Yonhap)
Park, the first South Korean leader ever to be ousted by impeachment, has avoided being directly investigated so far as the Constitution stipulates that an incumbent president is immune from indictment except in cases of treason or insurrection.
Following Friday's ruling, Park is likely to undergo a thorough investigation by state prosecutors who are looking into the unresolved issues that have been handed over from the independent counsel team.
Aside from the corruptive connection between the political powers and the business giants, the alleged blacklisting of cultural figures deemed critical of the government ignited a public uproar toward the Park administration.
Wrapping up the monthslong probe, the investigation team linked the impeached president to her aides' blacklisting of 9,473 cultural figures to deny them state support.
Park's former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun and ex-chief of staff Kim Ki-choon are currently standing trial for allegedly orchestrating the creation and management of the blacklist.
In this file photo taken on Nov. 23, 2016, high school students hold a candlelight rally in Jeonju, about 240 kilometers south of Seoul, to demand the resignation of President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal implicating her and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. (Yonhap)
A majority of Koreans, even some of her supporters, were frustrated to witness the country's law and principles being trampled on by those holding power -- from a woman who has no policy experience allegedly making decisions in key state affairs, to the president using a phone opened under another person's name to communicate with the shadowy figure.
Allegations that Choi's daughter got undue favors in admission to the country's prestigious Ewha Womans University was another issue that raised the eyebrows of many people, especially youths facing cutthroat competition to enter a university and get a job.
Ever since liberal civic groups held their first anti-Park candlelight vigil in late October, millions of South Koreans have held massive, yet peaceful demonstrations to demand Park's prompt ouster. It was a number unseen in decades.
Park's avid supporters have also held their own rallies for weeks, demanding Park's reinstatement. It is unclear whether they will accept the result. The protesters had vowed to continue their fight if the court ruled against Park.
Eyes are now on who will be elected to lead the divided country. A presidential election has to take place within 60 days. Many expect it to fall on May 9.
A group of supporters of impeached President Park Geun-hye holds a rally in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, on Feb. 26, 2017, demanding the Constitutional Court reject the parliamentary impeachment of Park, accused of corruption. (Yonhap)