The outgoing President of South Korea, Park Geun-Hye, confronted and led in court, was tried Tuesday in front of a vast corruption scandal that saw millions go out on the streets and lead to his fall.
Only two months after leaving the presidential palace in disgrace, Park was taken to the Seoul Central District Court in handcuffs on a bus from the Ministry of Justice, with at least six guards on board.
She wore blue trousers, a badge with her prisoner number, and no makeup in front of the courts, where she avoided meeting the gaze of her secret confidante and co-accused Choi Soon-Sil.
The trial, which is expected to last for months, is the final act of the drama that engulfed Park, the daughter of a dictator who was elected president himself before being returned by The higher court of the country.
Presiding Judge Kim Se-Yun, who heads a group of three men – there is no jury – asked him: "What is your occupation, the accused Park Geun-Hye? "
She replied: "I do not have any occupation."
Park, 65, is the third South Korean leader to be tried for corruption.
She was indicted by parliament in December after mass demonstrations – which inspired economic and social frustrations – to demand her withdrawal on a scenario centered on her 40-year-old friend Choi and involving some Of the country 's businessmen.
She was detained shortly after her dismissal – Tuesday's court session was her first public appearance since then – and was charged with 18 charges, including corruption, coercion and abuse Power to offer government favors to the magnates who bribed Choi.
Warm and corrupt ties between business and political elites in South Korea have lasted for decades and the lawsuit could illuminate the ties between Park and the patrons of the family-run conglomerates that dominate the fourth largest economy d & # 39; Asia.
They include the heir of Samsung Lee Jae-Yong, who is tried separately, and Shin Dong-Bin, chairman of retail giant Lotte, the smallest conglomerate of the South, who was among the defendants Tuesday
Choi, the daughter of a dark religious figure who was Park mentor for years, is also accused of using her presidential ties to force top businesses to "make a donation" to nearly $ 70 million to non-profit foundations, which was used for personal purposes.
Prosecutors told the court that Park and Choi were colluding by receiving seven billion won ($ 6 million) from Shin last year.
Park met Samsung Lee in July and told her that she hoped succession to the world's largest smartphone Creator "would be smoothly resolved under her government", asking her to support the foundations, according to The prosecutor Hwang Woong-Jae.
The park is also accused of leaving Choi, who has no security clearance or authorization, deals with a wide range of business State, including senior appointments and even his daily wardrobe choices.
She denied all the charges against her and her lawyers told the court that she could not personally benefit from the foundations.
Park has previously blamed Choi for abusing their friendship.
"Chapter of the story"
The procedure took place under close security, with some members of the public present after winning a lottery for the seats in the gallery.
"I am here to witness a new chapter in the story deployed," said viewer Lee Jae-Bong, 70, at AFP.
"I think Park should be punished thoroughly and never be forgiven for such a thing to ever happen again.
Former South Korean presidents Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo have served prison sentences in the 1990s for charges, including corruption and betrayal, and former President Roh Moo -Hyun – mentor of the new leader Moon Jae-In – has committed suicide in 2009 after being questioned about the transplant.
The hearing comes only two weeks after the country elected the former human rights lawyer, the left, who lost the 2012 poll to Park – as his successor.
Park Young-Soo, who headed the special prosecutors who investigated the case, said the debates would be "the trial of the century."
Park grew up in the presidential palace as the daughter of the last dictator Park Chung-Hee, who took power in 1961, entering as de facto first woman after her mother was murdered in an attempt to kill him. He was assassinated in 1979.
She rose to the presidency mainly because of her continued popularity among older voters who benefited from rapid economic growth under her tenure.
In case of conviction for the most serious charges, Park faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.