Seoul – Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye was officially charged with bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other high-profile corruption charges that could potentially send her to jail for life.
Park was impeached in December, officially stripped of power in March and has been in a detention facility near Seoul since being arrested last month on allegations that she extorted from businesses, took bribes and committed other wrongdoing, all in collaboration with a longtime confidante.
South Korean prosecutors also charged Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin with bribery. He was charged without being detained.
The retail giant Lotte, with interests ranging from hotels and retail to food and chemicals, becomes the second conglomerate mired in the political scandal after Jay Y. Lee, the chief of the biggest, Samsung Group, was arrested suspected of bribing Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Lee, Park and Choi are being held at detention centers.
Lotte, South Korea’s fifth-biggest conglomerate, is grappling with the Chinese shutdown of dozens of its stores in China, after it agreed to provide land for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system outside Seoul.
South Korea, which accuses China or discriminating against some South Korean companies working in China, and the United States say the sole purpose of THAAD is to guard against North Korean missiles. China says its powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security and spoke out against it again on Monday.
Lotte’s chief Shin is also on a separate graft trial involving family members charged with embezzlement and breach of trust.
Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with Choi to receive 7 billion won ($6.16 million) from Lotte for favors, they said in a statement.
Park is also charged with taking bribes worth about 29.8 billion won from Samsung scion Lee in exchange for supporting his succession, according to the prosecutors’ statement.
Lotte denied allegations that it made improper deals with Park, or those linked to her, for favors, but said it would explain itself at court to resolve suspicions.
“We find the decision on the indictment regrettable,” Lotte Group said in a statement.
Park, Lee, Choi and Samsung Group have also denied wrongdoing.
Park will remain jailed and be escorted from the detention center to a Seoul court for a trial that is to start in coming weeks and could take as long as six months. It is still unclear if the trial will start before a May 9 special election that will determine her successor.
Park, 65, was elected South Korea’s first female president in late 2012. The country will now watch as she is forced to stand in court while handcuffed, bound with rope and possibly dressed in prison garb.
If convicted, her bribery charge carries the biggest punishment, ranging from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment.