Lights out at 9pm for ousted South Korean president

Reuters, SEOUL

Sat, Apr 01, 2017 - Page 1

Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye was yesterday behind bars in the Seoul Detention Center after her arrest, on charges including bribery, in a corruption scandal that has brought down some of the country’s business and political elite

Dressed in the green jumpsuit of undertrials, Park’s days at the detention center are to start at 6:30am and end at 9pm.

The only privilege the 65-year-old could have over other inmates would be slightly more space, and a toilet and shower in an adjoining room, rather than within her cell, former correctional and prosecution officials said.

An official at the detention center said she was assigned a single cell, but declined to provide further details.

At the beginning of last month, Park was residing at the sprawling presidential Blue House. She shifted to her private home in an upscale Seoul neighborhood after the South Korean Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment for conspiring with long-time friend Choi Soon-sil to raise millions of US dollars for foundations from the country’s conglomerates.

Park and Choi both deny wrongdoing.

Park was driven to the detention center on the outskirts of Seoul just before dawn after a district court approved prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant.

Ashen-faced and flanked by two female officers in the back seat of a black sedan, Park’s hair was down, apparently because she had removed the hairpins that held her hair in her trademark chignon style.

At the center, she went through an identification check and a simple health examination, and correctional officers took a mugshot, as they do with other inmates.

Park is to be held in detention for up to 20 days while she is investigated and possibly indicted on charges that could imprison her for at least 10 years.

As a former president she would likely be assigned a cell that is larger than the 6.56m2 solitary units occupied by others accused of wrongdoing in the same scandal, including Samsung Group heir-apparent Jay Y. Lee.

“I think Park would stay in a better facility,” retired prosecutor Kim Kyung-soo said. “And she will use a bigger cell than those of others.”

Apart from the cell, Park would be subject to the same rules on everything from meals to room inspections, the former prosecutors and prison officials said.

That includes rising at about 6:30am and going to bed at about 9pm, and being allowed to watch TV during the day, but only a single channel with prerecorded programs authorized by the South Korean Ministry of Justice.

Visitors are limited to one per day, but inmates are allowed unlimited meeting time with their lawyers.

Yesterday, Park was to be served a simple lunch of rice with bean sprouts, kimchi, cabbage stew and seaweed that costs 1,443 won (US$1.29), the prison’s food table showed.

One of the privileges Park would have to give up if arrested will be getting her hair coiffed in the chignon style.

Inmates have access to hairdressers inside, but services are limited to cutting hair.