May 23, 2017 2:55 pm JST

South Korea's Park Geun-hye denies all charges at first hearing

Impeached, imprisoned former president says all charges based on speculation

KENICHI YAMADA, Nikkei staff writer

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, front right, sits for her trial at the Seoul Central District Court on May 23. © AP

SEOUL -- Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye's first hearing began at the Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday morning. Park was in court for the first time since her arrest on March 31 after being ousted as president.

During the hearing, Park's lawyer said prosecutors based their charges on speculation. Park denied all charges, agreeing with her lawyers.

Asked by the judge about her occupation, Park replied that she was unemployed. The former president appeared in court with her trademark hairstyle, wearing a navy blue outfit with a badge displaying her inmate number. 

According to the complaint, Park, along with her her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, was said to have received 43.3 billion won ($38.6 million) in bribes from the Samsung group, the country's largest conglomerate. She is also alleged to have tried to obtain 7 billion won in bribes from the Lotte group and 8.9 billion won from the SK group.

Park faces a total of 18 criminal charges, including leaking government secrets.

The Seoul district court has conducted two trial preparations to sift through the issues. The court had indicated it wanted to consolidate Park's hearing with Choi's, who has also been charged with bribery, since it claimed the charges were nearly identical.

The defense has opposed the move. How to proceed with future hearings will likely be discussed during the first hearing.

Prosecutors contend that Samsung bribed Park to strengthen Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong's control over management, while Lotte bribed Park to receive approval for opening duty-free shops.

Lee has been indicted and arrested. Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin has been indicted for bribery but was not arrested. Both have denied the allegations.

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