SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — South Korea's embattled former President Park Geun-hye was jailed Friday in a scandal that has set off a political firestorm and led to the arrests and indictments of dozens of high-profile figures. More drama is expected in the scandal in the weeks and months ahead. Here's what is likely to happen.
Park was sent to a detention facility near Seoul on Friday after the Seoul Central District Court accepted a request from prosecutors to arrest her. Prosecutors can now detain her for up to 20 days before formally indicting her. After indictment, Park is likely to remain in detention, probably for several months, during her trial.
Prosecutors could indict Park without arresting her, but said they needed to detain her because her alleged crimes are "grave" and she could try to destroy evidence. Prosecutors also said it was fair to arrest her since all other key suspects in the scandal have been arrested.
The scandal centres on allegations that Park conspired with a confidante to extort money from companies, take kickbacks from Samsung and engage in other wrongdoing. Prosecutors are expected to bring multiple charges including extortion, bribery and abuse of power.
Images of the former president attending court while handcuffed, bound and perhaps dressed in prison garb are certain to make more headlines. A district court normally issues a verdict within six months of an indictment.
The penalty for the bribery charge ranges from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment. But South Korea has a history of pardoning convicted former leaders, and some conservative politicians and media are urging that Park not be punished further, saying she has already lost the presidency, her reputation and many of her political allies. Others disagree, saying the law must be fair to everyone and that Park is at the heart of the scandal.
There are worries that some of Park's ultra-conservative supporters might stage violent rallies calling for her release. Three supporters died during clashes with police after the constitutional Court ruled to uphold her impeachment earlier in March.
Two former South Korean presidents, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were sentenced to life and 17 years in prison, respectively, in 1996, on charges including treason and bribery. But they were released in December 1997 in a special amnesty suggested by President-elect Kim Dae-jung, who pushed to promote national reconciliation to revive an economy battered by the Asian financial crisis.
OTHER KEY FIGURES ON TRIAL
Court rulings for others arrested in the scandal are expected in the coming months. They include Park confidante Choi Soon-sil, Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong and some top government officials.
Choi has been charged with bribery, extortion and abuse of power, and can be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted of bribery. Samsung's Lee faces bribery, embezzlement and three other charges punishable by at least five years in prison.
Also on trial are a former presidential adviser allegedly involved with Park and Choi in the extortion of millions of dollars from companies, another adviser who allegedly passed state secrets to Choi at Park's request, and two former culture ministers and a former presidential chief-of-staff accused of conspiring with Park and Choi to blacklist artists critical of Park's policies to deny them state support.
A new election is to be held May 9 to choose Park's successor. Opinion surveys show liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost the 2012 presidential election to Park, is a clear favourite to win.
Moon will likely receive his party's formal presidential nomination next week. There is talk of conservative and moderate parties fielding a unified candidate because that appears to be the only way to defeat Moon, but no serious attempt at such a political realignment has yet occurred.
The winner of the election will take office immediately, and analysts expect some policy confusion in the first several months as a result. Worse, possible protests by Park supporters could be a burden to the new president if they continue after the election.
Unlike Park, who took a tough approach toward North Korea, Moon has vowed to pursue improved ties with the North, a stance that might trigger discord with the U.S. and Japan.
Moon is also critical of decisions by Park to allow the installation of an advanced U.S. missile defence system in South Korea and resolve a decades-long impasse with Japan over Korean sex slaves used by its imperial army in World War II.
Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press