SEOUL – The former president of South Korea saw her downfall in a span of three weeks, from receiving the verdict of her impeachment to her detention in a prison cell.
Months of street protests against her business and political ties turned into a massive celebration on March 10 when Ms Park Geun Hye was impeached for violating the laws of the Constitution and meddling in corporate affairs.
Ms Park’s ties to large conglomerates can be traced back to her father, former president Park Chung Hee, who led South Korea’s rise in the 1970s. Her father had helped the economy to develop quickly by channeling state resources to a few family-run businesses known as chaebol. In turn, these businesses would support politicians financially. Ms Park had promised to repeat her father’s “miracle of Han river” during her presidential campaign, although the chaebol dynamic remains an obstacle for South Korea’s economy and was the cause of her downfall.
Following Ms Park’s impeachment, a judge ordered for her arrest. On March 31, she was driven to Seoul Detention Centre and received her first interrogation on April 4, according to The Korea Times. While she faces 13 separate charges, Ms Park denies receiving any benefits from the donations made by large corporations such as Samsung Electronics to the two non-profit foundations allegedly managed by her friend Choi Soon Sil.
Ms Park is expected to undergo the same procedures as other citizens in the detention centre, from having her mugshot taken to wearing a prison garb in a cell. She is in the same detention centre as Samsung heir Lee Jae Young, who allegedly bribed Choi to gain government backing of a 2015 merger that enabled Lee to acquire control over South Korea’s biggest conglomerate.
Prosecutors are given 20 days to indict Ms Park. Her arrest is a reminder that her case remains a significant factor for the upcoming presidential elections on May 9. According to The Straits Times, spokesman for leading candidate Moon Jae In commented that Ms Park’s detention would help to reform South Korea’s image and move forward from its “painful history”. On the other hand, Mr Hong Joon Pyo, a candidate from Ms Park’s political party Liberty Korea party, has asked for the public’s forgiveness of her actions.
Although this incident seems to have helped South Korea in terms of removing business ties from the state, the complex and dynamic relationship between political figures and chaebol remains difficult to eliminate. This is because “the strength of these connections makes it unlikely that they will disappear in the short run”, according to Professor Gilles Hilary at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.