South Korea’s embattled president colluded with a confidante to extract $37 million from Samsung in return for granting favorable treatment to the corporate behemoth, special prosecutors asserted Monday after a 75-day investigation of the sensational corruption scandal that has been roiling the country.
The damning 101-page report recommends five more charges against Park Geun-hye, taking the total to 13 and paving the way for her to be indicted if she is ejected from office. The Constitutional Court is set to announce, perhaps as soon as Friday, whether it will uphold a parliamentary motion to impeach Park, who has been suspended from duties for three months.
“The core purpose of this investigation was to shed light on the chronic collusion between private interests and the government, and to expose cases of abuse of state power for personal gain,” Park Young-soo, head of the special prosecution team, told reporters in Seoul on Monday as he released the report.
The special prosecutors indicted 30 people in connection with the corruption and influence-peddling scandal, which has ensnared business chiefs, presidential aides and prosecutors. The affair has also brought to light extraordinary tales of million-dollar horses given as bribes and Botox injections administered in the presidential Blue House.
The special prosecutors assigned to investigate the case because the state prosecution was embroiled in the scandal were unable to complete their inquiry because of Park’s refusal to appear and because the prime minister who is doing her job would not extend the time allowed for the inquiry.
South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye attends an emergency cabinet meeting at the presidential office on December 9, 2016 in Seoul.
“The investigation ended, accomplishing just half of what had to be done due to the limited period and uncooperative attitude of those subject to the investigation,” the head of the special prosecution team said.
The president, who issued a 52-page rebuttal through her lawyer Monday, refused to be questioned by the special prosecutors regarding her role in the case or to appear before the Constitutional Court.
Although a president can be questioned while in office, the prosecution could not compel her to appear. Nor can Park be indicted while she holds the presidency. The 13 charges that prosecutors would like to press against her, once she becomes a regular citizen again, include abuse of power and receiving bribes.
She can be indicted if impeached — or once her term expires in February next year, if she is exonerated in the impeachment case.
The Constitutional Court, which set itself a deadline of March 13 to decide whether to uphold the National Assembly’s motion to impeach Park, will announce Tuesday the date it will deliver its verdict. South Korean media have reported that it will most likely be Friday.
Park, 65, is the daughter of former military strongman Park Chung-hee, who served as president from 1963 to 1979 and oversaw South Korea’s transformation into an economic powerhouse by supporting conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai. Park is South Korea’s first female president and, if she is impeached, would become the first to be forced out of office.
South Koreans wearing water proof clothing, attend a rally against South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on a main street in Seoul on March 1.
In that event, a presidential election would be held within 60 days. If she is exonerated, it would be held as scheduled in December.
Even without Park’s cooperation, the special prosecutors still charge that the president colluded with her friend Choi Soon-sil to take a total of $37 million in bribes from Samsung in return for approving a merger that would help Lee Jae-yong, the third-generation head of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, maintain the family’s control.
The presidential Blue House instructed the head of the National Pension Service, a major Samsung shareholder, to vote for the merger, even though the fund lost $120 million in the deal, the report said.
The president also gave Choi’s associates influential positions, including ambassador to Burma, where the confidante could make money, the report found.
It concluded that Park and Choi had 573 phone calls in a six-month period — between April and October 2016, when the scandal broke on cellphones registered under other people’s names.
The report also implicated Park in the blacklisting of almost 9,500 left-leaning artists considered critical of her administration, which would prevent them from receiving government grants for their work.
The special investigation team handed over its inquiry to the state prosecutors’ office Monday, which announced it would review the findings.
But Park, through her attorney, again strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The special prosecutors’ investigation was “unfair and lacking in evidence,” said the lawyer, Yoo Yeong-ha, and the president decided not to appear for questioning because she “could not trust the investigation team” after the date originally scheduled for her appearance was leaked to the media.
Park denied knowing anything about Choi’s efforts to extort money from Samsung or to win business favors for the conglomerate, the statement continued.
Choi, who is on trial, has also denied all wrongdoing.
The report detailed specific allegations against Lee, the Samsung heir apparent who was indicted last month and is being held in a small cell outside Seoul.
The special prosecutors concluded that Lee paid $37 million in bribes to Choi and Park, and embezzled $24 million from Samsung units to pay the bribes. Lee also has been accused of transferring almost $7 million abroad to hide the money from prosecutors, and he has been charged with perjury for allegedly lying about it.
If Lee is found guilty of hiding more than $5 million abroad, he could face at least 10 years in prison, special prosecutors have said.
Samsung again strongly denied the accusations. “We disagree with the special prosecutor’s findings,” a spokeswoman said in a statement Monday. “Samsung has not paid bribes nor made improper requests seeking favors. Future court proceedings will reveal the truth.