Former South Korean President Park Guen-hye was arrested yesterday on charges including extortion, bribery and abuse of power. The New York Times reports Park is expected to “remain in jail through her trial.” Prosecutors expressed concern that evidence might be destroyed if Park was not placed into custody. NPR reported that the disgraced former leader will face a total of thirteen charges, including “bribery, abuse of power and the leaking of state secrets.”
Park’s arrest comes as the latest development in a scandal that has so far toppled major South Korean political and economic entities including an indictment for the leader of Samsung. Effects will likely be felt both internationally and nationally, especially for those who used their ties to the fallen leader as a means of exerting foreign influence in South Korean politics.
Prosecutors applied for an arrest warrant for the former President earlier in the week, shortly after a constitutional court ruling upheld the earlier December impeachment. Park was summoned for fourteen hours of questioning less than a week after the constitutional court ruling removing her Presidential immunity from prosecution.
Park’s close aide, Choi Soon-sil, and the leader of the Samsung Group had been previously indicted on charges also involving corruption and bribery. The events leading to Park’s arrest prompted hundreds of thousands of South Koreans to take to the streets last year demanding Park’s removal late last year, leading to her impeachment in December.
The New York Times called massive demonstrations demanding Park’s removal: “One of the largest anti-government protests in recent decades.” Multiple news outlets described the size of the protests in terms of hundreds of thousands. South Koreans gathered weekly for over a month with estimates on the size of the crowds ranging from 240,000 to 1.5 million. Polling during the period showed up to 40% of South Koreans thought Park should resign.
Embedded among allegations of bribery and abuse of power were claims that Park’s close advisor Choi Soon-sil had practiced a form of Shamanism as part of her influencing over the former President. NPR reported that members of Park’s own party who said that she has fallen under the spell of a “religious cult” while the head of the main opposition party described the situation as a: “a terrifying theocracy.” Park responded with resolute denials in regards to allegations of participation in cult activities.
Some outside South Korea such as Angela Merkel will no doubt pay close attention to former President Park’s arrest.
Korean media had described the particularly warm relationship between the two leaders: “Park and Merkel have forged a personal bond since they first met…” The two reportedly met at least five times, with Merkel characterized as having greatly “influenced” Park’s political consciousness. When details of the scandal were initially revealed, advisor Choi Soon Sil’s daughter fled to Germany.
De-facto leader of the Samsung Group, Lee Jae-yong, was indicted in February. The Wall Street Journal reported his arrest on charges of embezzlement, bribery and perjury stemming from Samsung’s payment of: “43 billion Korean won ($36.6 million) to entities allegedly linked to Ms. Choi.” Samsung’s alleged bribes were said to have been related to a merger which would have strengthened Lee’s leadership of Samsung.
To put the effect of such charges into perspective, the Samsung Group is South Korea’s largest conglomerate, responsible for a mind boggling estimated 20% of the South Korean economy. The group holds numerous subsidiary companies in diverse industries including medical care, ship building, theme parks and insurance.
That one central scandal would topple not only former President Park but lead to the indictment of the leader of a massive economic entity like the Samsung Group is nothing less than monumental.
Revelations made by Wikileaks had proved damning for Samsung earlier this year. Wikileaks stated in their press release for Vault 7 that the corporation’s smart TV’s were affected by a program known as ‘Weeping Angel,’ said to turn Samsung Smart TV’s into “open mics,” even when switched off.
Notable Samsung ties have also included sponsorship of the troubled Clinton Global Initiative. Samsung collaborated with the Clinton Foundation including :”Advancing Child Health through Mobile Technologies,” a commitment which CGI estimated being valued at $2 million. Samsung Electronics additionally participated in the CGI “Youth Employability Initiative” which raised a total of $72 million.
Samsung has also previously entered into business partnerships with the prominent Rothschild family. Investment Europe reported that Samsung Asset Management would be distributing Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management’s flagship European convertible bond fund in South Korea. In 2016, Business Korea also reported that Samsung Asset Management was to release a European dividend fund, with Rothschild and Samsung Asset Management London acting as the portfolio consultant and manager of the fund, respectively.
Park’s impeachment and final dismissal give a nascent example of the effectiveness of populism. Although sparsely reported by Western press given the significance of the allegations, protests in South Korea dragged went on for months with the participation of hundreds of thousands. That some individuals at the center of South Korean economic and political life would be not only removed from office but arrested as a result demonstrates the power of the public will.
New elections have been set for May 9.