From presidential palace to prison privileges, life inside for Korea’s political princess
Detained Park Geun-hye, South Korea's 65-year-old former president, could be given a slightly bigger cell but apart from that will be subject to the same rules as other prisoners, on everything from meals to room inspections
Dressed in the green jumpsuit of prisoners awaiting trial, ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye’s days at the Seoul Detention Centre will start at 6:30 a.m. and end at 9 p.m.
The only privilege the 65-year-old could have over other inmates will 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 centre said she was assigned a single cell but declined to provide further details.
At the beginning of this month, Park was residing at the sprawling presidential Blue House. She shifted to her private home in an upscale Seoul neighbourhood after the Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment for conspiring with longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to raise millions of dollars for foundations from the country’s conglomerates.
Park and Choi both deny wrongdoing.
Park was driven to the detention centre on the outskirts of Seoul just before dawn on Friday 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 centre, she went through an ID check and a simple health examination, and correctional officers took a mugshot, as they do with other inmates.
Park will 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 will likely be assigned a cell that will be larger than the 6.56 square meter (71 square foot) solitary units occupied by others accused of wrongdoing in the same scandal, including the head of the Samsung conglomerate, Jay Y. Lee.
“I think Park would stay in a better facility,” said Kim Kyung-soo, a retired prosecutor who interrogated two former military presidents, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, after their arrests in 1995 for treason and bribery.
“And she will use a bigger cell than those of others.”
Apart from the cell, Park will 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 6:30 a.m. and going to bed at around 9 p.m, and being allowed to watch television during the day but only a single channel with pre-recorded programmes authorised by the Justice Ministry.
Visitors are limited to one a day but detained inmates are allowed unlimited meeting time with their lawyers.
RICE, BEAN SPROUTS
The Korea Correctional Service, which operates the country’s prisons and detention centres, lists a rotating set of meals that provide 2,500 calories a day.
On Friday, Park will be served a simple lunch of rice with bean sprouts, kimchi, cabbage stew and seaweed that costs 1,443 won ($1.30), the prison’s food table showed.
One of the privileges Park will 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. Cosmetics at the detention centre commissary are limited to the basics, like toner and lotion. Hair dye is also unavailable.
Park will not be allowed to keep hairpins, lawyers who know about South Korea’s correctional system said.
Her prison mates are her friend Choi and Samsung scion Lee, who is accused of giving bribes to Park for corporate favours, as well as top presidential aides involved in the scandal.
Lee Soon-gil, 77, a retired justice ministry official who was chief at the Seoul Detention Centre when Roh was held there, said the former president was given a bigger cell and a separate shower room and a toilet, whereas other inmates had wash stands and toilets inside their cells.
Lee said officers redesigned an old cell, furnishing a desk and a bed for the former president, but the cells were inspected every day like others.
“She will be treated equally like anyone else,” he said of Park.
Samsung’s Lee has no shower, only a wash-stand, in his cell and a mattress on the floor to sleep on.
Kim, the retired prosecutor, said Park would have some benefits as a former president but no advantages.
“She is 65 and a woman, so in that regard she will be taken care of, but in the meantime she will be going through thorough investigations while being in there despite her age and status as a former president,” he said.