South Korea's Disgraced President Leaves Blue House, Still Faces Potential Prosecution and Jail

South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday to uphold a parliamentary vote to impeach Park Geun-hye for influence-peddling and graft.

Ex-president Park Geun-Hye arrives at her private residence in Seoul. March 12, 2017.
STR/AFP

Disgraced South Korean leader Park Geun-hye left the presidential Blue House on Sunday, two days after a court dismissed her over a corruption scandal, bound for her private home and facing the possibility of prosecution and jail.

Park left the compound in a motorcade of fast-driving black cars, flanked by police motorbikes, after bidding farewell to staff, an official said. Upon her return home, Park was greeted by hundreds of supporters who thunderously chanted her name and waved the South Korean flag as her bodyguard-flanked black sedan slowly rolled into a path near the house.

Park, dressed in a dark blue coat and her hair tied in a bun, smiled and waved from inside the car. She then stepped out and shook hands and exchanged brief words with members of her political party before going inside the house.

In her first public comments since the court's ruling, Park said in statement, "Although it will take time, I believe the truth will certainly come out."

The statement, which was read to reporters by Min Kyungwook, a lawmaker from her conservative party and her former spokesman, Park also expressed gratitude to her supporters and apologized for "failing to fulfill my duty as president."

Youn Kwansuk, the spokesman for the liberal Democratic Party, the largest in parliament, called Park's statement "shocking" and "very regrettable" because she did not express remorse.

"Former President Park will now be investigated by prosecutors as a civilian and as a criminal suspect," Youn said in a statement. "So it's very regrettable that former President Park decided to waste her last opportunity to come before the nation and show responsibility."

The Constitutional Court ruled on Friday to uphold a parliamentary vote to impeach Park, dismissing her from office over an influence-peddling scandal that has shaken the country's political and business elite.

A snap presidential election will be held by May 9.

Park, 65, is South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.

Her dismissal followed months of political paralysis and turmoil over the graft scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail and facing trial.

The crisis has coincided with rising tension with North Korea and anger from China over the deployment in South Korea of a U.S. missile-defense system.

Park did not appear in court on Friday. She remained in the Blue House, prompting some grumbling from critics keen to see her stripped of the privileges of power.

Her dismissal marked a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea's first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee.

It was not the first time she has had to leave the Blue House compound of traditional-style buildings at the foot of a hill in central Seoul.

In 1979, after a nine-day funeral following the assassination of her father, the young Park left the Blue House with her siblings for a family home. She had been acting first lady after her mother was shot and killed in an earlier failed assassination attempt on her father.

Now, having lost presidential immunity, she could face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Both women denied wrongdoing.

'Justice, common sense'

Earlier on Sunday, media outside her private home said renovators were at work inside. Television later showed a moving van outside the house and men unloading boxes and furniture.

The liberal politician likely to become the next president, Moon Jae-in, promised to work for justice and common sense.

"We still have a long way to go. We have to make this a country of justice, of common sense through regime change," Moon, who advocates reconciliation with North Korea, told a news conference.

"We all have to work together for a complete victory."

Moon is leading in opinion polls which show South Koreans are likely to throw out the conservatives after nearly a decade in power and turn to a liberal leader.

Moon called on Park to publicly accept the court ruling and warned she should not try to destroy or remove any documents when she left the Blue House.

Park's dismissal have exposed fault lines in a society long divided by Cold War politics.

Thousands of Park's opponents celebrated in Seoul on Saturday, where they have been gathering every weekend for months, and demanded that she be arrested.

The former president's conservative supporters also took to the streets not far away, though fewer in number.

Police were out in force but there was no trouble.

On Friday, two Park supporters were killed as they tried to break through police lines outside the court, shortly after the verdict.

One was believed to have had a heart attack, a hospital official said, and the other died as protesters attacked police buses being used as a barricade. A third protester, a man aged 74, suffered a heart attack and died on Saturday.