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South Korea's ex-president accused of €5.7 million bribe and 'leaking state secrets'

Park Geun-Hye, detained at a centre near Seoul, was officially charged today.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

OUSTED SOUTH President Park Geun-Hye was charged with bribery today involving millions of dollars over the massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal that brought her down.

Park, whose impeachment was confirmed by Seoul’s top court last month, is at the centre of a sprawling graft investigation, which has also implicated top businessmen and brought millions of people onto the streets.

The former leader, already detained at a centre near Seoul, also faces charges of abusing her powers and leaking state secrets, Seoul prosecutors probing the scandal said in a statement.

“We have formally charged Park… with multiple offences including abuse of power, coercion, bribery and leaking state secrets,” they said after wrapping up the months-long investigation.

Park is accused of colluding with her confidante at the heart of the scandal, Choi Soon-sil, who is already on trial for coercing local conglomerates into donating a total of 77.4 billion won (€63.8 million) to two non-profit foundations.

SOUTH KOREA-SEOUL-PARK GEUN HYE-IMPEACHMENT People watch a TV screen broadcasting news about Park Geun-hye's impeachment in March 2017. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Choi allegedly used some of the donations for personal gain.

Park is also accused of offering policy favours to top businessmen who enriched Choi, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong who was arrested earlier and is also on trial for bribery.

Prosecutors today also charged Shin Dong-Bin, the chairman of the retail giant Lotte Group, with bribing Choi and Park.

Shin allegedly offered seven billion won (€5.7 million) to a sports foundation linked with Choi in exchange for a policy favour from Park over Lotte’s duty-free business.

Dictator’s daughter

Park, 65-year-old daughter of the late former dictator Park Chung-Hee, spent nearly two decades living in Seoul’s sprawling presidential palace, before the allegations of corruption engulfed her presidency late last year.

South Korea Politics Ahn Cheol-soo, the presidential candidate of South Korea's People's Party, is surrounded by the media during a presidential election campaign in Seoul, South Korea today. Source: Ahn Young-joon/PA Images

The scandal sent her once-bulletproof approval ratings to record lows with millions taking to the streets for months calling for her ouster, though she also had a loyal following from groups of mainly older rival protesters.

Her father is widely revered by aged, conservative South Koreans who benefited from the rapid economic growth under his iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979.

Parliament impeached Park last December and she lost her executive privilege – including protection from criminal indictment – last month when the Constitutional Court confirmed her impeachment, sending her into detention.

The scandal also shed light on her questionable, decades-long ties to Choi and Choi’s father, a shady religious figure who wielded huge influence on Park from the 1970s until his death in 1994.

Park is accused of leaking state secrets to Choi, a high school graduate with no title or security clearance, and letting her handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nomination.

A number of former presidential aides are on trial for leaking confidential state documents to Choi or helping her handle state affairs allegedly on Park’s order.

Park has repeatedly apologised for the upset caused by the scandal but never admitted any wrongdoing, blaming Choi for abusing their friendship.

Her indictment comes as the country kicks off official campaigning for 9 May presidential elections to choose her successor.

Park is the third former leader to be arrested and charged over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy long plagued by cosy and corrupt ties between big businesses and regulators.

© AFP 2017.

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