TOKYO — South Korean prosecutors, citing concerns about destruction of evidence, asked a court Monday to order the arrest of former president Park Geun-hye, who was impeached earlier this month in connection with a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
Prosecutors grilled Park for 14 hours last week, the first time she agreed to answer questions about her role in the scandal.
The Seoul Central District Court scheduled a hearing Thursday morning to decide whether Park, 65, should be detained for further questioning.
Usually in South Korea, subjects of such requests wait at a detention center to hear the outcome of the court hearing, so they can go straight into custody. But these are not usual times, and it is not clear whether Park will follow this practice.
Park lost her immunity from prosecution when South Korea’s Constitutional Court dismissed her from office on March 10 after concluding that she had “continuously” violated the law. Prosecutors have identified 13 charges that could be leveled against her, including bribery, abuse of power and leaking confidential information.
“A lot of evidence has been collected so far, but as the suspect denies most of the criminal allegations against her, there is a possibility of her destroying evidence,” the prosecution said in a statement Monday.
However, analysts said, Park already has had plenty of time to destroy evidence. She was suspended as president in early December when the National Assembly passed a motion to impeach her and forwarded the matter to the Constitutional Court.
But she remained in the presidential Blue House throughout the three months that the court was deliberating, and then stayed on for 60 hours even after she was impeached before returning to her private home in southern Seoul.
Park also refused to allow prosecutors access to her office during their investigation and declined to talk to them or to appear before the court deciding her fate. She has denied the allegations against her.
The scandal centers on Park’s relationship with Choi Soon-sil, her lifelong friend and confidante.
Park was a notoriously reclusive president — her former chief of staff said he would go weeks without seeing her, and some of her own ministers said they had never met with her in person — but she secretly was relying on Choi, who had no policy or political experience and no security clearance.
Choi is accused of extracting a total of $70 million from major businesses on the promise that they would get favorable treatment from Park’s government. Prosecutors have said that Park colluded in the scheme.
Choi is now on trial, as is Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung, who is alleged to have given or promised to give Choi about $37 million. Choi is said to have offered to ensure government support for the merger of two Samsung units — crucial for Lee to retain control of the huge conglomerate.
Choi and Lee have denied any wrongdoing.
Two of Park’s former presidential aides, a prominent prosecutor and the head of South Korea’s national pension fund, the world’s third largest, also have been caught up in the investigation.
“It would be unfair not to seek a warrant considering that her accomplice Choi Soon-sil, as well as those government officials who followed her direction and the ones who gave kickbacks, have all been detained,” the prosecution said in its statement Monday, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
There is no guarantee that the arrest warrant will be granted. Prosecutors sought to detain Lee of Samsung in January, but their application was rejected. A second attempt was successful, and Lee is now being held in the same facility outside Seoul as Choi.
Still, opponents of Park were pleased at the move.
“This request for an arrest warrant for Park on bribery and other charges is a historic decision,” said Youn Kwan-suk, spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party. “It is a reasonable conclusion under the law.”
Many of the people who rallied in the streets of Seoul over the weekend of Park’s impeachment held signs calling for her arrest. Some artists made replica jail cells with a cardboard cutout of Park inside, while vendors sold snacks including “prison bread” and “prison milk.”
But Park’s supporters were dismayed by Monday’s request. The Liberty Party, a group of Park loyalists who broke away from the ruling party after she was suspended, said it hoped the investigation could be completed without the arrest of the former president.