Impeached Park faces unfettered investigation, loses benefits

Protesters at the fifth nationwide weekly demonstration on Nov. 27 demand Park Geun-hye’s resignation over the corruption scandal. They are pictured on Jahamun-ro in Jongno-gu, Seoul. Park’s effigy in a prisoner’s uniform and bound by rope is being held by the protesters. / Korea Times file

By Ko Dong-hwan

President Park Geun-hye has been stripped of her presidential name tag following the Constitutional Court’s decision over a high-profile corruption scandal and now faces an extensive investigation that the independent counsel failed to wrap up.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and his team of special prosecutors secured arrest warrants for Ewha Womans University’s former president Choi Kyung-hee and a dean, Kim Kyung-sook, and Samsung Electronics Vice-Chairman Lee Jae-yong in efforts to unravel the scandal.

But when the probe’s term ran out, the team left some allegations against the former president hanging, including her whereabouts during the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014 that claimed 304 lives and her ties to former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo. The Seoul Central Court refused an arrest warrant for Woo, citing lack of evidence.

The special prosecutors wanted to know how much influence Park allegedly had exerted over political and business authorities to help her longtime friend and accused influence-peddler Choi Soon-sil. But Park’s lawyers denied all allegations.

She is now without presidential protection from prosecution and is vulnerable to the 34 local prosecutors who have been assigned the independent counsel’s role and given the evidence collected so far.

Park, who has been holed up inside the presidential house Cheong Wa Dae since October when the scandal erupted, is expected to keep a low profile at her home ― a mansion in Samseong-dong ― relying on her lawyers to save her reputation.

The impeachment means she has lost her pension. If the court had dismissed the impeachment motion and Park completed her presidential term, she could have received 12 million won ($10,364) to 13 million won a month. Other privileges lost include the ability to hire three secretaries and one chauffeur, a free pass to public and national hospitals and maintenance fees for her house.

But she is entitled security guard protection for five years, not the 10 years that those who complete their presidential terms receive.

There is speculation she will not return to the Samseong-dong house, where she moved in 1990 and spent her political life, starting in 1997 as a lawmaker. She took up residence in Cheong Wa Dae in 2013.

According to an insider from the ruling Liberty Korea Party, quoted by DongA Ilbo, the former president has decided not to return to her Seoul mansion.

She considered Daegu, her former constituency when she was a lawmaker, or somewhere in Chungcheong Province, where her mother’s hometown is, but has decided to stay in Gyeonggi Province just outside the capital, according to Cheong Wa Dae. She may temporarily stay in religious facilities ― Buddhist or Catholic ― until moving to her new residence.

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