South Korea Ousts President Over Corruption Scandal
South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday to uphold the impeachment of president Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal, making her the country’s first democratically elected president to be removed from office.
South Korea’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in December in favor of impeaching President Park on charges that she received millions of dollars in bribes and allowed her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil access to classified documents and privileged information. The country's Constitutional Court had 180 days to review the legality of the impeachment.
"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," acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said when delivering the ruling, according to state media.
Park lost immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power, Reuters reported.
South Korea has 60 days to elect a new leader. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who has been serving as interim president since December, will remain acting president until the election that is expected in early May.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged that Park allowing Choi Soon-sil to handle state affairs was illegal but it dismissed other charges, such as her abuse of power to appoint government officials, according Yonhap News Agency.
The court said Park has "completely hidden" Choi’s involvement in government affairs and helped her longtime friend pursue personal gains by supporting various companies under Choi’s control.
Choi has been detained since late October on charges of abuse of power, attempted fraud, bribery and obstruction of business.
Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from Samsung Group leader Lee Jae-yong for government favors, such as the backing of a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates to solidify his control over the country’s largest chaebol.
Lee was arrested last month on allegations of bribery, perjury and embezzlement. The scion and four other Samsung executives formally denied the charges against them when the trial began on Thursday, according to the New York Times.
Park’s impeachment and Lee’s ongoing trial highlight the deep dissatisfaction many South Koreans are feeling after years of chaebol-related corruption scandals involving the country’s political elite.