An anti-government activist (right) wearing a mask of South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye marches toward the presidential Blue House after the announcement of the Constitutional Court’s decision. Pic/AFPAn anti-government activist (right) wearing a mask of South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye marches toward the presidential Blue House after the announcement of the Constitutional Court’s decision. Pic/AFP

Seoul: In a historic, unanimous ruling yesterday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court formally removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil and worsened an already-serious national divide.

The court’s decision capped a stunning fall for Park, the country’s first female leader who rode a wave of lingering conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency crumble as millions of furious protesters filled the nation’s streets.

The ruling by the eight-member panel opens Park up to possible criminal proceedings prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect and makes her South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s.

Park’s “acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust,” acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said. “The benefits of protecting the constitution that can be earned by dismissing the defendant are overwhelmingly big. Hereupon, in a unanimous decision by the court panel, we issue a verdict: We dismiss the defendant, President Park Geun-hye.”

Lee accused Park of colluding with her longtime confidante and private citizen Choi Soon-sil to extort tens of millions of dollars from businesses and letting Choi meddle in state affairs and receive and look at documents with state secrets.

Those are the allegations that prosecutors have already raised, but Park has refused to undergo any questioning, citing a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.