SEOUL, South Korea >> South Korean prosecutors said today they want to arrest former President Park Geun-hye for the corruption allegations that triggered a huge political scandal and toppled her from power.
The move comes after prosecutors grilled Park for 14 hours last week over suspicions that she colluded with a jailed confidante to extort from companies and committed other wrongdoing when she was in office.
A Seoul prosecutors’ office said in a statement that it wants a local court to issue an arrest warrant for Park. The Seoul Central District Court is expected to ask her to appear at a hearing before deciding on the request.
An arrest is the next step before Park can be formally charged with crimes such as extortion, bribery and abuse of power. A bribery conviction alone is punishable by up to a life sentence in South Korea.
Park has denied any legal wrongdoing.
Even if the court dismisses the request, prosecutors can still indict and charge her. Prosecutors said Park’s alleged crimes were “grave,” and that she should also be arrested because her alleged accomplice, confidant Choi Soon-sil, and other suspects in the scandal have been arrested.
Political analysts have said that arresting Park would also boost tensions and create a backlash from her conservative supporters ahead of an election in May to choose her successor.
While in office, Park had presidential immunity from prosecution and had refused to meet with prosecutors.
Prosecutors accuse Park of conspiring with Choi and one of a top presidential adviser to pressure 16 business groups, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 billion won ($69 million) to two nonprofits that Choi controlled and used for personal profit. The companies told investigators that they couldn’t refuse because they feared business disadvantages such as state tax investigations.
Prosecutors believe the money Samsung gave Choi could qualify as bribes provided to Park. Prosecutors also accuse Park of conspiring with Choi and top officials to blacklist artists critical of her polices and deny them state financial support.
Park has apologized for putting trust in Choi, but said she only let her edit some of her presidential speeches and provide the president with some “public relations” help.
The opposition-controlled parliament in December impeached Park over the allegations and suspended her presidential powers and responsibilities before the Constitutional Court ruled on March 10 to dismiss her for the top post.
Park’s allegations plunged the country into political turmoil, with both Park’s opponents and supporters staging massive street rallies. Three of Park’s supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, died during clashes with the police after the March 10 court ruling.
Park is a daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee, one of the most divisive figures in South Korean history. Conservative supporters revere him as a hero who lifted a war-torn country from poverty while liberal critics remember him as a horrible human rights abuser who tortured and imprisoned his political rivals.