Seoul: Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was on Monday charged with bribery involving millions of dollars over the massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal that brought her down.
Park, whose impeachment was confirmed by Seoul’s top court last month, is at the centre of a sprawling graft investigation, which has also implicated top businessmen and brought millions of people onto the streets.
The former leader, already detained at a centre near Seoul, also faces charges of abusing her powers and leaking state secrets, Seoul prosecutors probing the scandal said in a statement.
“We have formally charged Park… with multiple offences including abuse of power, coercion, bribery and leaking state secrets,” they said after wrapping up the months-long investigation.
Park is accused of colluding with her confidante at the heart of the scandal, Choi Soon-sil, who is already on trial for coercing local conglomerates into donating a total of 77.4 billion won (USD 68 million) to two non-profit foundations.
Choi allegedly used some of the donations for personal gain. Park is also accused of offering policy favours to top businessmen who enriched Choi, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong who was arrested earlier and is also on trial for bribery.
Prosecutors on Monday also charged Shin Dong-Bin, the chairman of the retail giant Lotte Group, with bribing Choi and Park.
Shin allegedly offered seven billion won (USD 6.15 million) to a sports foundation linked with Choi in exchange for a policy favour from Park over Lotte’s duty-free business.
Park, 65-year-old daughter of the late former dictator Park Chung-Hee, spent nearly two decades living in Seoul’s sprawling presidential palace, before the allegations of corruption engulfed her presidency late last year.
The scandal sent her once-bulletproof approval ratings to record lows with millions taking to the streets for months calling for her ouster, though she also had a loyal following from groups of mainly older rival protesters.
Her father is widely revered by aged, conservative South Koreans who benefited from the rapid economic growth under his iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979.
Parliament impeached Park last December and she lost her executive privilege — including protection from criminal indictment — last month when the Constitutional Court confirmed her impeachment, sending her into detention.
The scandal also shed light on her questionable, decades-long ties to Choi and Choi’s father, a shady religious figure who wielded huge influence on Park from the 1970s until his death in 1994.
Park is accused of leaking state secrets to Choi, a high school graduate with no title or security clearance, and letting her handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nomination.
A number of former presidential aides are on trial for leaking confidential state documents to Choi or helping her handle state affairs allegedly on Park’s order.
Park has repeatedly apologised for the upset caused by the scandal but never admitted any wrongdoing, blaming Choi for abusing their friendship.
Her indictment comes as the country kicks off official campaigning for May 9 presidential elections to choose her successor.
Park is the third former leader to be arrested and charged over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy long plagued by cozy and corrupt ties between big businesses and regulators.