Saturday, June 12, 2021

Impeached South Korea president: what Park did wrong


tiamin rice

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during an address to the nation, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on November 29, 2016. South Korea’s scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye said Tuesday she was willing to stand down early and would let parliament decide on her fate. / AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO AND POOL / JEON HEON-KYUN

South Korea’s Park Geun-Hye was fired by the Constitutional Court on Friday, becoming the country’s first president to be sacked by impeachment.

She was brought down by a sprawling corruption and influence-peddling scandal centred on her secret confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who is on trial for using her ties to the head of state to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations Choi controlled.

Park has been named as Choi’s accomplice and is accused of letting her handle a wide range of state affairs, including senior nominations.

She was impeached by parliament on 13 separate grounds, with the final decision on whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment resting with the court.

Here are the court’s main conclusions in the case.

– Breach of representative democracy –
From 2013 to 2016, a key aide to Park handed Choi secret documents over upcoming senior nominations, cabinet meetings and overseas state visits and diplomatic meetings under “Park’s orders or negligence”, the court said.

Choi often issued directions over the drafts or personally revised them, even recommending personal acquaintances for senior positions who later helped her seek benefits from state projects.

Local media reports have described Choi, a high school graduate who has never held any title or no security clearance, as a “shadow president”.

“The accused (Park)… impaired the principle of representative democracy and the rule of law,” the court said.

– Abuse of power –
Park for years not only concealed the presence of Choi but cracked down on journalists or lawmakers who tried to make public Choi’s presence and influence, “rendering the system of checks and balances ineffective”, the court found.

“The accused abused her presidential power for Choi’s personal gain… in violation of the Constitution, the laws on public servants and the ethical codes on public servants,” the court said.

– Violation of property rights –
Park forced a number of top firms including Samsung and Lotte to donate a large amount of money to the Choi-controlled foundations.

She also interfered with management decisions at firms including Hyundai and KT — a major wireless operator — to force them to award lucrative contracts to firms controlled by Choi.

“The actions by the accused… that directly or indirectly helped Choi reap personal gains not only violated the companies’ property rights but also the freedom of enterprises,” the court said.

– Breach of freedom of press –
According to the parliamentary accusations, the Blue House threatened a tax probe and legal action against the Segye Ilbo newspaper after it reported on alleged interference in state affairs by Choi’s then husband, forcing the daily’s president to step down.

There was no evidence for the allegation, the court said.

– Violation of citizens’ rights to dignity –
Park stayed at her residence in the first critical hours when the Sewol ferry sank in April 2014, killing more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren.

She has refused to specify what she was doing, sparking wild rumours including a tryst and a cosmetic surgery, and parliament charged her with negligence.

Park had a duty to “sincerely” protect citizens, but the definition was too abstract, the court said, so that the issue “cannot be a subject of judgment at the impeachment review”.

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