image courtesy Koreaboo

South Korea’s Constitutional Court has formally removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil, worsened an already-serious national divide and led to calls for sweeping reforms.

Ms 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.”

All eight judges on the Constitutional Court voted to uphold the impeachment motion against Park, passed by an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly in December, saying the president had “continuously” violated the law and Constitution.

Friday’s ruling from the highest court in the land follows an earlier impeachment decision by the parliament, and months of mass public protests over her role in a corruption scandal involving close confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Special prosecutors tasked with investigating the case, known here as “Choi-gate,” said in a damning 101-page report released this week that they had found evidence that the president colluded with Choi.

The political scandal,most extraordinary even by the standards of South Korea’s tumultuous democracy,revolves around Park and her lifelong friend, Choi Soon-sil, who held no official position but turned out to wield huge influence over the president, much more than her official advisers and ministers.

Choi is accused of extracting bribes from big business,Samsung alone is accused of planning to give her $37 million,in return for using her relationship with the president to ensure favourable treatment for the companies.

The case has rocked South Korean society because of the sheer extent of the alleged corruption,Not only is the presidential Blue House implicated but also the chiefs of leading companies such as Samsung, a high-profile prosecutor and the head of the national pension fund, the world’s third-largest.

Her dismissal thrusts the country into a rushed 60 day election campaign, leaving Seoul with a leadership vacuum at a time of heightened regional tension over missile tests by volatile neighbour North Korea.

South Korea must now hold an election within two months to choose Ms Park’s successor.

Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost to Ms Park in the 2012 election, currently enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion surveys.

Whoever becomes the next leader will take over a country facing a hostile North Korea, a stagnant economy and deep social and political divides.

Park, 65, is the daughter of former military strongman Park Chung-hee, who served as president from 1963 to 1979 and oversaw South Korea’s transformation into an economic powerhouse by supporting conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai.

She effectively became South Korea’s first lady at the age of 22, and during this time became close to Choi Tae-min, the founder of a religious cult that incorporated elements of Christianity and Buddhism. He would “deliver messages” to Park from her dead mother, according to local reports. A U.S. Embassy cable noted that the local press described Choi as a “Korean Rasputin.”

Park also became close to Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, the confidante at the center of this scandal, and their friendship continued after both their fathers died.