SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - With the indictment, the prosecutors ended a six-month, multifaceted probe into the corruption scandal that forced South Korea President Park Geun-hye out of office last month.
Former South Korea President Park Geun-hye received 59.2 billion won (US$52.1 million) in bribes, South Korean prosecutors said Monday, indicting the leader on a total of 18 charges.
With the indictment, the prosecutors ended a six-month, multifaceted probe into the corruption scandal that forced Park out of office last month.
They also indicted Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin - without physical detention - for bribery, while clearing SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won. Woo Byung-woo, who was Park’s key aide in civil affairs while the alleged corruption took place, was also sent for a criminal trial for abuse of power.
“The prosecution has questioned ex-president Park six times, searched seven places, traced 30 bank accounts and investigated 110 people in a 150-member a special investigation unit including 31 prosecutors to clarify suspicions surrounding Park and (her arrested friend) Choi Soon-sil,” the Seoul Central District Prosecutors‘ Office said in a statement.
Park, who has been in custody since late last month, is accused of colluding with her confidante Choi to extort donations worth 77.4 billion won from local firms for the K-Sports and Mir foundations, allegedly controlled by Choi, in return for political favours, the prosecution said.
The prosecution said that Park solicited or was promised to receive bribes totaling 59.2 billion won - 43.3 billion won from Samsung, 7 billion won from Lotte and 8.9 billion won from SK - for Choi-controlled entities.
Lotte tycoon Shin, who is already on trial for embezzlement and breach of trust in a separate case, faces bribery charges. He is the second chief of a local firm to be put on trial in connection with Park’s scandal, following Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong.
Woo, who served as a presidential secretary for civil affairs from 2015 to 2016, is charged with assisting or condoning Choi’s meddling in state affairs, disrupting a probe into Choi’s manipulation of power and exerting undue influence over personnel appointments under the Park administration.
Through the six-month probe into the corruption scandal, the prosecution indicted more than 20 people including Choi, who is already on trial for coercing donations from local firms, former presidential aides, ex-ministers and Samsung’s Lee in connection with the corruption scandal.
The prosecution initially investigated the scandal before handing over the probe to an independent counsel team in December, naming Park as an accomplice to Choi in abuse of power in extorting donations from local firms.
But the independent counsel, which ended its 70-day probe into the scandal on February 28, concluded that part of Samsung’s donations had been bribes made in return for political favors.
Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong is on trial for offering or promising to offer bribes to Park and Choi in return for helping him tighten his control over his firm through a merger of two key units.
Park is also charged with abusing her authority to help Choi’s business interests, exclude artists critical of Park from state budget and sack government officials uncooperative with her wrongdoings. Another major charge is leaking government secrets to Choi.
Park will face court proceedings while remaining in detention. The criminal trial of Park is expected to begin after the May 9 presidential election to minimise the political impact it could have on the election campaign that officially began earlier in the day.
Park has denied all the charges. She said local firms voluntarily donated the money and claimed no knowledge of any illegal activities by Choi and her inner circle.
In another blow to Lotte Group, whose family members are already standing trial for their involvement in embezzlement, tax evasion and fraud, its chief Shin was indicted for seeking a favor from Park to secure a business license for its duty-free shop by contributing 7 billion won to the K-Sports Foundation.
The prosecution has expanded its probe into other local firms who contributed money to the Choi-controlled entities, but only Shin and Samsung’s Lee were indicted for providing the donations which the prosecution saw as bribes in exchange for favours.
The prosecution, which also brought in SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won for questioning, did not file charges against him. SK was under suspicion that it sought a special pardon for its chief.
“Lotte Group was found to have offered money, though it was later returned. But as for SK Group, we confirmed that the company was asked to offer money, but it did not actually provide the money,” the prosecution’s spokesman Roh Seung-kwon told reporters during a briefing.
Park was expelled from office on March 10, with less than a year remaining in her five-year term, in a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court to finalise her parliamentary impeachment over the corruption scandal.
Park, who was the first woman to reach the highest office in South Korea, ended up becoming the nation’s first president to be removed from power by impeachment and the third to be arrested, following Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-hwan.