SEOUL, South Korea – Several months into their investigation into the country's biggest political scandal in decades, South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday finally met and questioned recently ousted President Park Geun-hye to determine whether to seek a warrant to arrest her.
Park, who no longer has immunity from prosecution following a March 10 court ruling that ended her presidency, could face multiple charges such as extortion, bribery and abuse of power. The bribery conviction could carry up to life imprisonment.
A look at the criminal allegations against Park, who has steadfastly denied any legal wrongdoing, and the potential impact her fate could have on South Korean politics:
EXTORTION AND ABUSE OF POWER
Park is accused of conspiring with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to pressure 16 business groups, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 billion won ($69 million) to the Mir and K-Sports foundations, two nonprofits that Choi controlled.
According to prosecutors, Park allegedly pushed for company donations through her meetings with the companies' top executives and through her top presidential aides and government officials.
The companies told investigators that they couldn't refuse because they feared business disadvantages like state tax investigations.
Park is also suspected of having a senior presidential secretary pressure the Lotte Group into giving an additional 7 billion won ($6 million) to the K-Sports foundation to finance the construction of a sports facility in the city of Hanam, which was to be operated by a private company established by Choi. The money was later returned.
Park has said she simply asked companies to support projects aimed at promoting the country's culture and sports sectors.
Prosecutors accuse Park and Choi of taking bribes from technology giant Samsung, the country's largest business group.
Lee Jae-yong, Samsung's de facto chief, was arrested last month over allegations that he used 43.3 billion won ($39 million) in corporate funds to bribe Choi for business favors. The money in question includes more than 20 billion won ($18 million) that Samsung donated to the nonprofits Choi controlled.
Lee allegedly bribed Park and Choi to obtain government backing for a contentious merger of two Samsung companies in 2015 that served as a key step in passing corporate control to Lee from his ailing father.
Both Park and Lee have denied the allegations. Park told reporters on New Year's Day that she was being "totally framed."
ARTISTS BLACKLISTING AND STATE SECRET LEAKAGE
Prosecutors also believe Park colluded with Choi and top culture and presidential officials to blacklist thousands of artists deemed as unfriendly to her administration and denied them state support.
Park's alleged backlist reportedly included some of South Korea's most famous cultural figures, including "Oldboy" film director Park Chan-wook and poet Ko Un, whose name frequently appears in discussions for the Nobel literature prize. They had signed joint statements criticizing the government for its handling of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people and supported opposition candidates during major national elections.
Park has said she never knew about the alleged blacklists.
Prosecutors also suspect that Park passed to Choi classified presidential documents, including information on ministerial candidates, which further enabled her friend of 40 years to manipulate state affairs from the shadows even though she has never held any official post.
Park says she only passed drafts of her speeches to Choi for edits but never shared sensitive information to her.
Prosecutors reportedly said they have "overflowing" evidence showing Park is an accomplice in Choi's alleged criminal activities. But pushing to arrest Park is a different matter.
Some say it's imperative to arrest Park like other key suspects jailed over the scandal, but others worry that placing her behind bars could further deepen a national divide and trigger a conservative backlash ahead of a May 9 election to choose Park's successor.
After the March 10 court ruling, her loyal conservative supporters held fierce rallies that left three of them dead following clashes with police. If Park is arrested, they will likely stage similar rallies calling for her release, causing a new round of political chaos, according to some political experts.
Under South Korean law, people convicted of bribery involving more than 100 million won ($89,000) can face a prison term of more than 10 years or even life imprisonment.
But in the case of Park's bribery allegations, the Samsung bribes went to Choi, not directly to Park. Legal experts say that for the bribery charges to stick, prosecutors must clearly prove that Park and Choi were connected economically and that Samsung provided the money in exchange for "unjust requests."
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.