South Korea’s Constitutional Court has ruled in favour of the impeachment of President Park Guen-hye, the first time a democratically-elected leader of South Korea has been forced from office. The current panel of 8 judges unanimously agreed with the South Korean Parliament’s impeachment vote 92 days earlier following the exposure of a wide and far-reaching corruption scandal.
The basic premise of the scandal which brought down the President centres around the financial practices of and level of government access to information given to Ms Park’s closest confidante Choi Soon-sil. She is now standing trial on a number of counts, based upon the prosecution’s accusation that she used her connection to the President to pressure businesses into donating to non-profit funds she controlled to the tune of £60 million, or around US$70 million.
Spiraling from this have been a host of allegations and disclosures, progressively more astounding in nature. These include accusations of religious cult rituals taking place in the Blue House, the South Korean President’s official residence, the discovery of a large supply of viagra in the President’s offices, claimed to have been purchased in order to treat possible altitude sickness on state visits to East Africa, and technology giant Samsung’s admittance of having paid £1 million for a horse for Ms Choi’s daughter. Perhaps the most astonishing part of the whole corruption scandal is that it may have not surfaced while Park Guen-hye was President, were it not for a dispute over the care of a puppy.
Ms Choi, two ex-advisors of President Park, including her former Chief of Staff, a K-pop video director and the current Vice-Chairman and de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, have all been charged in relation to the scandal. Samsung are heavily implicated, with the prosecution accusing them of donating the equivalent of £30 million to the non-profit funds. Further, on top of buying the aforementioned horse, it is also alleged Samsung paid millions of pounds for the daughter’s equestrian training as part of attempting to gain favour with the President’s administration – clearly taking the word ‘horse-trading’ in its literal sense.
Having been impeached, Ms Park is no longer immune from prosecution and now could herself stand trial for granting government access and information to Ms Choi as an unofficial adviser and allegedly being an accomplice of Ms Choi in pressuring companies to donate to the non-profit funds. Ms Park has admitted passing speeches to her friend to edit, but denies any wrongdoing.
The people power of huge candle-lit vigils in President Square in Seoul calling for her impeachment back in Autumn 2016, appears to be now being replicated by her supporters. Whilst impeachment supporters have been hailing it as a ‘people’s victory’, a rally in support of Ms. Park took place outside of the Constitutional Court following the decision and scuffles broke out between the protesters and police. At least two protesters died as a result.
Ms Park has yet to respond to the Constitutional Court’s verdict that her actions in terms of letting Ms Choi meddle in state affairs and abuse of power were ‘a grave violation of law, which cannot be tolerated’. Her silence is being interpreted as a refusal to accept the judgement. She has also not made any effort so far to vacate the Blue House.
When she eventually chooses to go, or is forcibly removed, it will be the second time that Ms Park has left the president’s residence in extraordinary circumstances. Her father, President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated whilst in office in 1979, five years after her mother was assassinated by a North Korean spy.
Due to the impeachment, South Korean Presidential elections will now take place within 60 days, rather than the scheduled date of December. Current polling suggests Moon Jae-in, the former head of the opposition Democrat Party, is most likely to win any election.