South Korea’s disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was arrested early Friday local time on charges including bribery and abuse of power, the latest chapter in a dramatic downfall for the U.S. ally, the Yonhap news agency reported.
Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoings. The allegations prompted millions of South Koreans to protest in the streets every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled March 10 to remove her. Park’s presidential powers already had been suspended after the parliament impeached her in December.
Live TV footage showed a black sedan carrying Park entering the detention center near Seoul. Earlier Friday, the Seoul Central District Court approved prosecutors’ request to arrest her, citing worries that she may try to destroy evidence.
Many Park supporters were seen carrying national flags and shouting “president” when Park’s car was entering the detention facility.
South Korea’s first female president rose to power four years ago amid conservatives’ nostalgia for her late dictator father who is credited by supporters for pulling a war-torn country out of poverty in the 1960-70s. Liberal critics reviled her father as a ruthless leader who tortured and imprisoned his opponents.
Prosecutors said they wanted to arrest Park because her crimes were “grave” and because other suspects involved the scandal, including her confidante Choi Soo-sil, already had been arrested.
In the coming weeks, prosecutors are expected to formally charge Park with extortion, bribery and abuse of power. A bribery conviction alone is punishable by up to life in prison in South Korea.
Park and Choi deny most of the allegations. Park has said she only let Choi edit some of her presidential speeches and got her help on “public relations” issues. Choi made similar statements.
The women, both in their 60s, have been friends for 40 years. Park once described Choi as someone who helped her when she had “difficulties,” an apparent reference to her parents’ assassinations in the 1970s. Park’s father Chung-hee was gunned down by his own intelligence chief in 1979, five years after his wife was killed in an assassination attempt that targeted him. Park Geun-hye served as first lady after her mother’s death.
While in office, Park Geun-hye had refused to meet with prosecutors, citing a law that gives a leader immunity from prosecution except for grave crimes such as treason.
South Korea is to hold an election in May to choose Park’s successor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.