Hundreds of rowdy, diehard supporters of ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye rallied on Friday outside a court demanding the acquittal of Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee, as his fate in a bribery was about to be announced inside. Park was forced from office in disgrace in March but the unwavering belief in her innocence has driven many of her supporters, mostly older women and men, to turn out for Lee, whose conviction, they believe, would almost certainly mean a guilty verdict for Park in her trial.
“The trials of former President Park Geun-hye and Samsung Jay Y. Lee go hand in hand,” said Son Tong-sok, 63, who heads a conservative group, holding a Korean flag. Park became the first democratically elected leader to be removed from office over charges that she colluded with her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to take bribes from conglomerates including Samsung. Lee, the 49-year-old heir to one of the world’s biggest corporate empires, has been in detention since February, facing trial on charges that he bribed Park. The court is set to begin ruling on Lee’s case at 0530 GMT. Park and Lee both denied wrongdoing.
Park was also at the Seoul Central District Court on Friday for a hearing in her corruption trial. A ruling in her trial is expected in October. Son said the prosecutors had built their cases on circumstantial evidence and unsubstantiated claims reported in the media. “Arresting these two innocent people are violations of human rights,” he said. But such supporters are a small minority compared with the huge crowds that turned out in central Seoul every week to call for Park’s ouster after the bribery allegations against her surfaced late last year.
“This is a chance to address the cosy relations between politics and business by changing Samsung,” said An Min-ji, a 28-year-old manager of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, who staged a small anti-Samsung protest outside the court. Police were on hand to make sure the three dozen or so anti-Samsung protesters were kept apart from the crowd of supporters. Joo Ok-soon, a 65-year-old housewife and leader of another conservative group called “Platoon of Moms”, said Lee’s trial was designed to set the stage for Park’s conviction.
Dozens of Park’s supporters have lined up outside the court for many days, often from before dawn and in sweltering summer heat, to secure seats in Lee’s hearings to show their support. Competition for the 30 seats available to the public for the Friday ruling was fierce, with more than 450 people entering a draw to witness what has been dubbed “the trial of the century”.