South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye arrived at a Seoul court on Tuesday to stand trial on bribery charges in a scandal that took her from the peak of power to a jail cell.
When asked in court to state her job, Park said: Unemployed.
Park faces more than 10 years in prison if found guilty of taking bribes from business leaders, one of the accusations that led to her being impeached and becoming the country’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office.
Park has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to plead not guilty at the trial.
In her first public appearance since she was arrested in March, Park arrived at court in a blue correctional services van. Park was handcuffed and wore a navy pantsuit.
Many Park supporters could be seen waving the national flag and shouting her name near a gate to the court grounds. Media showed roughly 100 supporters demanding her freedom at the entrance of the correctional facility where she has been held.
The first day of arguments on Tuesday comes two weeks after the election of President Moon Jae-in, who has promised to get tough on business leaders who commit crimes.
At the court hearing, Park and Choi Soon-sil, the friend she is accused of colluding with to solicit money, are likely to be reunited for the first time since the scandal erupted in late October. Choi has also denied the bribery charges.
Park was arrested on March 31, three weeks after she was removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling and after a judge decided she posed a flight risk and could tamper with evidence.
Media reports have said she spent her time in her prison cell reading the English dictionary and keeping away from news available for inmates. Park’s lawyer did not respond to telephone calls and text messages seeking comment. The Seoul Detention Center declined to comment citing the inmate’s privacy.
The Seoul Central District Court held a lottery last week for the 68 seats available for the public, drawing more than 500 people, most of them young people in their 20s and 30s.
Heo Go-eun, a 22-year-old university music major said she had cut her classes that day to enter the lottery.
“This will remain a page in history and I wanted to see for myself Park on trial,” said Heo, adding she had participated in the candlelight rallies last year that drew as many as a million South Koreans to the streets in peaceful protests.
“So many people are just happy Park has been impeached, that she has already paid the price for her crimes but this is just the beginning,” said Heo.