Seoul: A South Korean court on Friday unanimously affirmed parliament’s decision to impeach President Park Geun-hye amid a corruption probe, removing her from office in one of the most stunning political downfalls in the nation’s history.
The ruling means that Park must immediately leave her palatial Blue House residence in Seoul, where she had plotted her defence since lawmakers impeached her in December, stripping her of power. The move also triggers a presidential election within 60 days, with opposition figures leading in polls.
Park committed a “grave” violation of the law through leaking classified documents to her friend Choi Soon-sil, acting court president Lee Jung-mi said in her ruling.
“The president marred the rule of law and representative democracy with her anti-constitutional, anti-legal deeds,” Lee said. “She has betrayed the trust of the people.”
The decision brings South Korea closer to moving past one of its most turbulent periods in decades, in which millions of people hit the streets to demand a corruption probe targeting some of the country’s most powerful business and political leaders. Prosecutors have indicted about 40 people so far, including Samsung Electronics Co. heir-apparent Jay Y. Lee.
Park’s removal would allow South Korean policy makers—including acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn—to focus more on a slowing economy, escalating tensions with North Korea and economic retaliation from China over the Thaad missile-defence system. The leading candidates to replace her also favour moves to break up family-run conglomerates that have dominated Asia’s fourth-biggest economy for decades.
The benchmark Kospi index briefly rose to a session high after the ruling, before erasing gains. South Korea’s stocks and currency have remained resilient despite the crisis. The Kospi index has gained 4.6% in dollar terms since Park’s impeachment on 9 December, outpacing Japan’s Nikkei 225, while the won has been among Asia’s top performers in that time.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is home to several top candidates in recent polls, including frontrunner Moon Jae-in. The party will hold a nationwide primary over the next month to pick a nominee. Park’s Liberty Korea Party, formerly known as Saenuri, has yet to put forth a viable presidential candidate.
Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Park pressured top business executives, including Samsung’s Lee, to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations run by her friend in return for government favors. The trial for Lee, who has denied any wrongdoing, started on Thursday. Park had immunity from prosecution while in power. Bloomberg