South Korea’s ousted president Park Geun-Hye arrived at court on Thursday for a hearing to decide whether she should be arrested over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her down.
Looking grim-faced and pale, Park ignored a barrage of flashbulbs and did not speak when she arrived at the Seoul Central District Court.
Her formal detention and transfer to custody would be a key step in the disgrace of South Korea’s first woman president, who secured the largest vote share of any candidate in the democratic era when she was elected in 2012.
Park had her removal from office confirmed by the country’s top court earlier this month, ending her executive immunity, and her prosecution has been a key demand of the millions of people who took to the streets to protest against her.
The former president is accused of multiple offences including bribery, leaking government information, and abuse of power in the scandal. Park has denied all charges.
Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s secret confidante at the heart of the scandal, is already on trial for forcing top local firms including tech giant Samsung to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which she allegedly used for personal gain.
Prosecutors have submitted around 120,000 pages of documents to the Seoul Central District Court in relation to the charges against Park, and said it would be “counter to the principle of fairness” if she was not arrested.
The 65-year-old was driven away from her home in southern Seoul past hundreds of flag-waving, screaming supporters lining the narrow street. Some tried to break through police barricades in an effort to block her four-car convoy, and its journey was broadcast live on television.
Thursday’s hearing was expected to last for several hours, with Park sitting in the centre facing judge Kang Bu-young, 43, with lawyers and prosecutors to either side.
Afterwards Park was to be removed to a detention centre to await Kang’s decision, which was not expected until late into the night — although he has to make it within 24 hours.
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-Yong, who was arrested last month in connection to the scandal, was in court for over seven hours for his hearing, and his detention was approved early the following day.
If Park’s arrest warrant is granted, she will become the third former leader to be arrested over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where politics and big business have long been closely tied.