South Korean president removed from office following corruption scandal
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been removed from office after the Constitutional Court on Friday upheld a decision by the National Assembly to impeach her on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty. The decision meant Park became the first democratically elected leader of South Korea to be stripped of office.
The ruling from the eight judge panel sparked violent clashes outside the courtroom in Seoul between Park’s supporters and the protesters seeking her removal. The Yonhap news agency reports that two people have died as a result of the clashes.
The scandal has rocked South Korea – and not just because it involves the president. Samsung, the country’s largest and most powerful chaebol (family-run business) has also been caught up in the affair. In what is being called “the trial of the century,” the heir to the Samsung empire went on trial Thursday alleged to have made payments of up to $38 million to Park and her adviser Choi Soon-sil.
Park’s removal from office has sparked a snap presidential election, which is expected to take place as soon as May.
Here’s what you need to know:
- In its ruling, the eight-judge panel unanimously voted to impeach the president. Reading the decision, acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said: “The negative effects of the president’s actions and their repercussions are grave, and the benefits to defending the Constitution by removing her from office are overwhelmingly large.”
- Park, who didn’t appear in court Friday, is accused of allowing long-term family adviser Choi to meddle in state affairs as well as accepting a payment of $38 million from Samsung to smooth the process of a controversial merger of two of its biggest affiliates. The court accused Park of “thoroughly hiding” Choi’s involvement in government. Park was also accused of neglecting her duties during the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed more than 300, but the judges said the charge did not warrant deliberation by the court.
- Park’s impeachment by parliament last December was preceded by mass protests which saw hundreds of thousands of people pack the streets of Seoul for several months, calling for her removal. Those same protesters clashed with Park’s supporters and police outside the court Friday, with Yonhap reporting that the clashes grew heated after the decision was announced.
- According to the same news agency, two pro-Park protesters died from injuries suffered in the clashes, including a 72-year-old man, who was found bleeding from his head near the Constitutional Court. He later died from his wounds in hospital.
- Park, who has continuously denied any wrongdoing, now faces the prospect of a criminal prosecution, having been stripped of her presidential immunity — and her presidential pension. According to an aide who spoke to reporters outside the court, Park is planning on staying at the presidential residence known as the Blue House on Friday despite her removal from office, but wouldn’t be issuing a statement.
- The court’s decision has initiated a snap election which has to take place within 60 days, with May 9 cited as the likely date. The electoral commission says it is already accepting applications from candidates. Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in the 2012 election and is seen as a frontrunner to replace her, was quick to cheer the president’s removal from office. “The history moves forward based on the power of the great people. South Korea will start anew based on this fresh and amazing experience.”
- North Korea has also been quick to jump on the controversy, with the state news agency issuing an uncharacteristically quick response, calling Park a “common criminal.”
Whoever wins the presidency in the coming election will have to deal with rising tensions in the region, with China angry over the deployment by the U.S. military of the anti-missile THAAD system, while North Korea’s ongoing missile testing will also be of significant concern.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS