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South Korean court extends detention of ousted former president Park Geun-hye

’s ousted leader arrives at a prosecutor’s office in on March 21, 2017. Ousted South Korean president reported to prosecutors on March 21 for questioning over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her down, after using executive privilege to avoid them for months while in office. / AFP PHOTO / KIM HONG-JI

Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-Hye will be kept in detention for a further six months, a Seoul court ruled Friday, as she stands trial in a corruption case that toppled her from power.

The sprawling scandal involving the former leader and her powerful secret confidante, Choi Soon-Sil, unleashed massive nationwide protests last year and has exposed networks of privilege among the country’s business and political elite.

Park, 65, was impeached in March and has been detained since then, while standing trial on multiple charges including abuse of power, coercion and bribery that also involved the country’s tech giant Samsung.
The Seoul Central District Court on Friday extended Park’s detention until April next year, citing a potential risk of evidence being destroyed.

She stands accused of offering policy favours to business tycoons including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong who helped enrich Choi — the daughter of a shady religious figure who was a longtime mentor to Park until his death in 1994.

Park is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nominations and cabinet formation, as well as her daily wardrobe choices.

The scandal also saw Lee — the heir to the world’s largest smartphone maker — convicted of bribery and other charges relating to payments made by Samsung to Choi.

Lee, currently in jail and appealing his five-year prison term, maintains he is innocent and was forced by Park to help enrich Choi.

Choi has also been detained for months while on trial for multiple charges including coercion and bribery.

Park rose to power in 2012 largely thanks to the popularity of her late strongman father, Park Chung Hee, who had spearheaded the South’s stellar economic growth under his 1961-79 rule.

But the scandal that emerged late last year unleashed nationwide fury, even among many of her conservative supporters.

It is unclear when the court will deliver a verdict on Park, whose marathon trial involves more than 100 witnesses.

Prosecutors said Park should be kept in detainment until the court reaches a verdict in her case, citing concerns she might try to destroy evidence if released.
A verdict is expected to be issued as early as New Year.
Park, who was arrested and jailed on the last day of March weeks after Seoul’s Constitutional Court upheld an impeachment bill passed by lawmakers in December which formally removed her from office, is accused of colluding with a longtime friend to take tens of millions of dollars from companies in bribes and extortion. 
Several former cabinet ministers, senior presidential aides and the billionaire head of Samsung corporation, Lee Jae-yong, were all implicated in the case. Lee, who received a five-year sentence for offering bribes to Park, appealed to his August conviction.