Seoul: South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been removed from office, with the Constitutional Court unanimously upholding a parliamentary vote to impeach her for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
Now, elections for a new president must now be held within 60 days.
“The court dismisses President Park Geun-hye from her position,” said Lee Jung-mi, the acting chief justice, delivering the highly anticipated verdict Friday. “There is no other choice but to decide this verdict.”
The decision is historic for a country that adopted democracy only 30 years ago, with peaceful protest leading to the removal of an elected leader. But supporters of Park were quick in venting their anger Friday morning, clashing with riot police and breaching cordons around the court. One protester died in the throng outside the court, Yonhap news agency reported.
The case shook South Korean society because of the huge extent of the alleged corruption: Not only is the presidential Blue House implicated but also the chiefs of leading companies such as Samsung, a high-profile prosecutor and the head of the national pension fund, the world’s third-largest.
The case comes at a time of high tensions in the region, with North Korea firing missiles and threats and an angry China retaliating against South Korea for hosting an American antimissile battery, which Beijing views as an effort to curtail China.
All eight judges on the Constitutional Court voted to uphold the impeachment motion against Park, passed by an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly in December, saying the president had “continuously” violated the law and Constitution.
The court concluded that the president had helped her friend Choi Soon-sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates and had personally asked big business for donations. She had leaked confidential documents to Choi, tried to cover up her wrongdoing, then lied about it. The judges also chastised Park for refusing to answer questions about the case.
“The negative impact of the president’s legal violations is serious, and the benefits to defending the constitution by dismissing her from office are overwhelmingly large,” the acting chief justice said when reading out the court’s ruling.