Ex-president Park Geun-hye indicted in corruption probe

SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors indicted jailed former president Park Geun-hye yesterday as they wrapped up a six-month probe into the corruption and influence-peddling scandal that brought her down last month, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported.

Park has been charged with bribery, abuse of power, coercion and leaking government secrets in 18 suspected crimes, mostly involving her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil and former key aides.

Park became the country’s third former president to stand trial over corruption allegations, after Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo.

In the indictment, the prosecutors accused Park of taking and soliciting bribes worth 59.2 billion won (US$52 million) from three conglomerates – Samsung, Lotte and SK – for herself or her friend.

If convicted, she could face a prison term ranging from 10 years to life.

When she was arrested on March 31, she faced charges of coercion and abuse of power for her alleged collusion with Choi in extorting tens of billions of won from conglomerates.

Lee Jae-yong, de facto leader of Samsung, the nation’s largest business group, was already arrested for providing or pledging 43.3 billion won (US$38 million) to Choi and in effect, Park, in return for helping him secure group control through a merger of two key units.

Yesterday, the prosecution added new charges for Park for seeking and receiving kickbacks worth 15.9 billion won (US$14 million) from Lotte and SK for her confidante Choi.

Park is suspected of pressuring Lotte and SK to make additional donations of 7 billion won (US$6 million) and 8.9 billion won (US$7.8 million), respectively, into a sports foundation controlled by Choi. Prosecutors suspect that Park promised favors regarding the two conglomerates’ bids to operate duty-free shops and other pending issues.

Lotte, the nation’s fifth-largest business group, gave the money but Choi’s side returned it just before the retail giant was investigated over other irregularities. The third-largest SK Group rejected the demand.

The prosecution yesterday indicted Lotte chairperson Shin Dong-bin for giving bribes while deciding not to press charges against SK.

Park is also accused of creating a blacklist of cultural figures deemed critical of the government who were then denied state support, and abusing her power to force local firms to sign business contracts with Choi’s companies.

The former president reportedly denied all the charges during her interrogations including five rounds conducted at her detention centre.

Meanwhile, Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs from 2015 to 2016, was also indicted without detention for allegedly abusing authority and neglecting his duty in preventing Choi from meddling in state affairs.

A judge refused to issue an arrest warrant for Woo last week.

The massive corruption scandal erupted in October after a local media outlet revealed a tablet PC allegedly used by Choi. The device contained a series of documents related to state affairs, some of which the prosecution concluded were government secrets. Bernama