SEOUL, March 30 (Reuters) - A South Korean court began deliberating on Thursday whether to arrest ousted president Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in a corruption scandal involving charges she solicited bribes from the country’s largest conglomerate.
Park could become South Korea’s third former leader to be jailed for wrongdoing. She is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses to contribute to foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.
The 65-year-old appeared expressionless as she arrived at the Seoul Central District Court at 10:20 a.m. (0120 GMT) to plead her case that she should not be arrested while prosecutors investigate the scandal that has ensnared South Korea’s political and business elite.
Park, South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, argues that she does not pose a flight risk and will not try to tamper with evidence.
She and Choi have both denied any wrongdoing.
A judge will study evidence and hear arguments from prosecutors and Park’s lawyers before deciding whether an arrest warrant should be issued.
If Park is arrested, prosecutors will then have up to 20 days to file formal charges against her and put her on trial.
Park emerged from her private home and quickly stepped into a car before she was driven to the court in a motorcade. Police and security personnel blocked her supporters from spilling into the street to stop her car as it left her house in Seoul’s upmarket Gangnam neighbourhood.
Prosecutors said on Monday Park was accused of soliciting companies for money and infringing upon the freedom of corporate management by using her power as the president. Park was questioned for 14 hours by prosecutors last week.
She could face more than 10 years in jail if convicted of receiving bribes from bosses of big conglomerates, including Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee, in return for favours.
Lee, who denies charges that he provided bribes in return for favours for Samsung, and Choi are already in detention and are on trial separately.
If she is arrested, Park will likely be given a bigger cell than other inmates in a Seoul detention facility but be subject to the same rules on everything from meals to room inspections, former prosecution and correctional officials have said.
Park’s hairdresser came to her home as usual on Thursday morning to coif the former president’s hair in her favourite chignon style.
She was removed from office when a constitutional court upheld her parliamentary impeachment this month. (Editing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)