Court Ousts South Korean President

President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye
President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye

South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has become the country’s first democratically elected leader to be impeached from office.

Judges unanimously upheld parliament’s decision to impeach Park over her role in a corruption scandal involving her close friend, Choi Soon-sil.

She now loses her presidential immunity and could face criminal charges.

The court ruling is the culmination of months of political turmoil and public protest.

The office of the President said she would not be leaving the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace, on Friday nor be making any statement.

Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn has called for calm, saying the government should remain stable to prevent internal conflict from spreading.

At the heart of the drama lies the close friendship between the President and Choi.Choi is accused of using her presidential connections to pressure companies to give millions of dollars in donations to non-profit foundations she controlled.

President Park is alleged to have been personally involved in this, and to have given Choi unacceptable levels of access to official documents.

Parliament voted to impeach Park in December and the Constitutional Court has since been deciding whether to uphold or overturn this.

On Friday, a panel of eight judges ruled that President Park’s actions”seriously impaired the spirit of… democracy and the rule of law”.

The court said she had broken the law by allowing Choi to meddle in state affairs, and had breached guidelines on official secrets by leaking numerous documents.

Park had “concealed completely Choi’s meddling in state affairs and denied it whenever suspicions over the act emerged and even criticised those who raised the suspicions,” the court held.

But the judges dismissed some charges, including accusations that the President had infringed on freedom of the press by creating a media blacklist of cultural figures, and criticism of her response during the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.

Park was already suspended from presidential duties, with the Prime Minister taking over her responsibilities.

But she must now leave office – and her official residence – and a presidential election will be held within the next 60 days.

She has also lost her presidential immunity so could now face criminal charges over allegations she colluded with Choi.

The final decision is being celebrated by many, but as the verdict came through angry scenes erupted outside court.

Pro-Park protesters – mostly older conservatives – turned on police. Two people believed to be pro-Park died.

South Korea’s Yon hap news agency reported that one was killed when a loudspeaker fell on them, while an elderly man fell from a police van.

There is also a personal tragedy here; Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the general who seized power in 1961 and who set the country on a route towards industrialisation and democracy.

He was assassinated, as was her mother.She has lived an isolated life ever since, even as president.

She has relied on her best friend for 40 years – Choi Soon-sil.

The friendship has cost her the presidency and an honourable place in history. It may now put her behind bars.