South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office over charges of bribery and corruption. The unanimous ruling strips Park of immunity from prosecution, meaning she could face criminal charges. Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote.
Eight justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to unseat Ms. Park for committing “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” throughout her time in office, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a ruling that was nationally broadcast that Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.”
Ms. Park, 65, now faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from companies like Samsung.
Samsung Group scion Lee Jae-yong was arrested on bribery charges in February. He is accused of paying $36 million in bribes to President Park Geun-hye’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favors. Those are alleged to include government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that helped Mr. Lee, 48, inherit corporate control from his incapacitated father, Lee Kun-hee, the chairman.
Park’s removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest the sprawling corruption scandal and demands for her arrest. Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn: “In order to stop internal conflicts from intensifying, we should manage the social order and keep a stable government, so that national anxiety and the international society’s concern can be settled.”
Park Geun-hye was the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee. She had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.
After December’s impeachment vote, she continued to live in the presidential Blue House while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home since the age of 9. She left nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate incidents.
Park is now South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office. Her removal comes amid rising tension with North Korea and China. A new election will be held in 60 days.
The upheaval comes days after North Korea test-fired several ballistic missiles and as the Trump administration began deploying a missile defense system to South Korea. Chinese officials warn the U.S. is escalating a regional arms race. Park’s conservative party losing power could mean South Korea’s next leader will take a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.