SEOUL, South Korea — The Constitutional Court of South Korea said it would rule on Friday whether to reinstate President Park Geun-hye or formally oust her from office on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
Ms. Park has been suspended from office, with all her presidential powers frozen, since the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted to impeach her in December on charges of abusing power and collecting bribes from businesses.
If the Constitutional Court supports the vote in its verdict on Friday, Ms. Park will become the first South Korean president to lose office through parliamentary impeachment.
The court has held 17 hearings since the impeachment vote, but Ms. Park has never appeared in court. In a statement read by one of her lawyers during the last hearing, on Feb. 27, she vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“I feel crushed by all these misunderstandings and allegations,” she said, calling the accusations groundless.
But Kweon Seong-dong, the lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial, called Ms. Park and her secretive confidante, Choi Soon-sil, “enemies to democracy.”
In the scandal, which has rocked South Korea for months, Ms. Park and Ms. Choi were accused of conspiring to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from businesses. Ms. Park was also accused of letting Ms. Choi, who had no experience in policy making, edit her speeches, install acquaintances as senior government officials and influence state affairs from the shadows.
In its impeachment motion, the legislature also accused Ms. Park of undermining freedom of the press by cracking down on her critics and of shirking her duty to protect citizens’ lives by neglecting to respond efficiently to a ferry disaster in 2014 that killed more than 300 people.
If at least six members of the nine-judge Constitutional Court vote to impeach, Ms. Park will be removed from office. South Korea will then have 60 days to elect a successor, with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn acting as president during that time.
If fewer than six judges vote for impeachment, Ms. Park will immediately be returned to office. Her five-year term ends next February.
The court has been working with only eight judges after one retired in January, but that will not affect the required number of votes for or against impeachment.
No South Korean president has been forced from office through impeachment. The National Assembly voted in 2004 to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun, but the Constitutional Court reinstated him, ruling that his violations of election law were too minor to justify ending his presidency. Mr. Roh did not attend the court’s hearings on his impeachment.
The charges against Ms. Park are considered much more serious than those that Mr. Roh faced, and they have infuriated the public. Large crowds have gathered in central Seoul for months on Saturdays demanding an end to her presidency. In recent weeks, however, Ms. Park’s supporters have also organized big rallies calling for her reinstatement.
Regardless of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Ms. Park will most likely face criminal charges as soon as her presidency ends. While in office, she is protected from indictment.
On Monday, a special prosecutor asked state prosecutors to indict Ms. Park on bribery charges, saying that she and Ms. Choi conspired to take $38 million in bribes from Samsung, one of the world’s largest technology companies. Samsung’s vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong, the third-generation scion of the family who runs the conglomerate, goes on trial this week on bribery charges.
The special prosecutor said that the president should also face a criminal charge of abusing official power, saying she conspired with aides to blacklist thousands of artists, writers and movie directors deemed unfriendly to her government and exclude them from government-funded support programs.
Continue reading the main story