March 28, 2017 4:20 am JST

South Korean prosecutors seek Park's arrest

Seoul court to decide Thursday amid public pressure

KENICHI YAMADA, Nikkei staff writer

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye leaves the prosecutors' office in Seoul on March 22 after questioning. © Yonhap/Kyodo

SEOUL -- Prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday, only days after questioning her, in a likely attempt to put the scandal to rest before the nation elects its next leader May 9.

Park could face up to 13 criminal counts, including pressuring major corporations to donate to two foundations effectively controlled by confidante Choi Soon-sil, and leaking state secrets to Choi, according to a special prosecutor who investigated the case.

Prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect abused her status and authority as president to take money from businesses and infringed on the freedom of corporate management. They stressed the need for a warrant, arguing that Park had denied allegations against her in last week's marathon session of questioning and could destroy incriminating evidence unless detained.

"It would be unfair" not to seek her arrest, given the detention of Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong for allegedly bribing Park and Choi, a source familiar with the matter said.

Park is suspected of receiving about 30 billion won ($26.9 million) in bribes, the Yonhap News Agency reports. Samsung is said to have given or tried to give her a total of 43.3 billion won.

After the Constitutional Court removed Park on March 10, most observers had expected her to be indicted at the least, given the number of charges she will likely face as well as the arrest and indictment of her friend and top aides. Some had thought that a formal indictment and arrest would be delayed out of consideration for the next presidential election.

Prosecutors waited two weeks after questioning former President Roh Tae-woo before arresting him for bribery back in 1995. They are looking at a shorter time frame with Park because they see a pre-election indictment having less impact on national politics, according to Yonhap.

In a poll Wednesday by the CBS radio station, about 72% of respondents wanted Park to be arrested. Prosecutors are likely heeding public opinion.

The Seoul Central District Court will hold a hearing on the arrest warrant at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, according to a Monday announcement. The hearing will likely continue until late that night, or possibly past midnight. Park will become South Korea's third arrested ex-president if the court greenlights the request.

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