South Korea’s Park Pleads Not Guilty in First Hearing

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in the first hearing of a criminal trial that could see her imprisoned for life

ParkFormer South Korean President Park Geun-hye (Photo: Jeon Han, CC BY 2.0)The country’s first female leader was charged in April on accusations she abused her power and colluded with a childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, to extract 52.9 billion won (US$ 47 million) in bribes from major South Korean conglomerates, known as chaebol. The two are also accused of pressuring companies to donate to charities controlled by Choi.

Choi Soon-sil was also present at the hearing. She has denied any wrongdoing.

The conservative Park is the daughter of late strongman Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country in the 1960s and 1970s. The scandal involving Choi led to massive street protests, which saw her impeached in December and formally removed from office in March.

"It is an unfortunate scene in our history for a former president to be arrested and stand trial," Lee Won-seok, the lead prosecutor, said on Tuesday. "But we should establish the rule of law by punishing her illegal activities."

The scandal has led to the indictments of dozens of government officials and business leaders, including Lee Jae-yong, the scion of the family that controls the major conglomerate Samsung.

Park has reportedly been spending her time awaiting trial in jail reading an English-Korean dictionary.

If convicted of bribery, Park could face 10 years to life in prison, although her successor, Moon Jae-in, has the power to pardon her.

The next hearing is set for Thursday.