What’s been happening? Park, Choi and Lee – The Scandalous Trio
In December 2016, South Korean president Park Geun-Hye was suspended from office after weeks of huge protests by the public at large. The impeachment motion was successfully carried across by a wide margin (234-56) in a secret ballot in parliament. The votes of at least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass. Following the motion, her approval rating was sitting at a historic low of 5%.
The suspension follows revelations that Park had been colluding with a former aide and friend, Choi Soon-Sil. Ms Choi is accused of using her connection to Park to pressure large corporations to donate millions of dollars to non-profit foundations which she controlled. Park is alleged to have given Ms Choi unacceptable levels of access to official documents to help her achieve those bribes.
Prosecutors have named Samsung as one of the large companies that were involved in this corruption scandal with the de facto head of Samsung Jay Lee and four other executives facing trial on bribery and embezzlement charges. Mr Lee has admitted that the firm provided a $900,000 horse to Ms Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-Ra as well as making payments of $20.4 billion won to two of Ms Choi’s foundations but has denied seeking favours.
Park was officially removed from office on Friday as the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the parliamentary vote in December to impeach her for her role in the corruption scandal. It was a unanimous vote by all eight justices to uphold the impeachment motion. The Constitutional Court commented that the president had “continuously” violated the constitution and law through her leakage of official documents to Ms Choi and allowing her friend to meddle in state affairs. It also clarified that the ruling was focused only on the legitimacy of ousting the president and not on her criminal guilt or innocence. There was no comment on the decision from Park who remained in the presidential Blue House. Following the decision, pro-park supporters clashed with riot police outside the court in Seoul with three people having died since then.
- A new president needs to be elected – The decision triggers a new presidential election which must be held within 60 days. Moon Jae-In is a clear favourite in the race, registering 32% of voter favour in a recent poll by Gallup Korea and had only lost to Park in the 2012 election by 3 percentage points.
- Park is to be removed from the Blue House – Park has to leave the Blue House now but is said to be waiting on her private house in Seoul to be cleaned and repaired to accommodate her and her security detail.
- Loss of Immunity – Her immunity from prosecution while she was office is now gone. She becomes open to criminal charges with prosecutors having already recommended 13 charges against Park, including abuse of power, sharing of state secrets and coercion of donations.
- Criminal charges await her collaborators– Samsung’s Jay Lee and Ms Choi remain under arrest while they are pending trial for their respective roles in the scandal.