Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s recently impeached and ousted president, made her first appearance in court on Tuesday, denying all criminal charges against her, as one of the biggest trials in the country’s history began.
Ms. Park, the first former president to face trial in two decades, was indicted last month on 18 criminal charges, including collecting or demanding bribes worth $52 million from big businesses, mostly from Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate.
Ms. Park’s appearance at Seoul Central District Court was her first trip out of jail, where she has been living in a solitary cell since she was arrested on March 31.
She was formally removed from office over allegations of corruption and abuse of power on March 10. She was the first South Korean leader unseated in response to popular demands since 1960, when the country’s founding president, Syngman Rhee, fled to exile in Hawaii amid nationwide protests against his corrupt, authoritarian rule.
On Tuesday, Ms. Park, 65, was handcuffed and looked grim as she stepped off a minibus that had brought her to the courthouse. A uniformed female police officer held her arm and led her into the building. Ms. Park wore a lapel pin with her inmate number: 503.
In a highly unusual move, a three-judge panel later briefly allowed photographers and TV crews into the courtroom to take pictures of Ms. Park sitting in the dock. As she stepped into Courtroom No. 417, her lawyers stood and bowed toward her. She was not shackled inside the court. When the presiding judge, Kim Se-yun, asked what her occupation was, she said, “I am jobless.”
It was another humiliating moment for Ms. Park, once a conservative icon. As president, she had never appeared in public unless stylists had carefully arranged her hair in her trademark updo. On Tuesday, her hair looked disheveled.
The country she had officially headed until just a few months ago is now led by President Moon Jae-in, her liberal political adversary. In the presidential election on May 9, Mr. Moon defeated a conservative candidate supported by Ms. Park’s party with the biggest margin since the country introduced popular presidential elections in the late 1980s.
The three-judge panel had already held two preliminary hearings with only prosecutors and Ms. Park’s lawyers attending. With the session on Tuesday, where Ms. Park’s appearance was mandatory, the formal legal arguments officially began over the criminal charges she faced, including bribery, coercion, abuse of office and illegal leaking of government secrets.
“It is an unfortunate scene in our history for a former president to be arrested and stand trial,” Lee Won-seok, the lead prosecutor, said on Tuesday. “But we should establish the rule of law by punishing her illegal activities.”
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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-Hun