Corruption: South Korea’s High Court Upholds Ex-President’s 20-Year Jail Term
South Korea’s top court has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for former president Park Geun-hye on Thursday, over bribery and other crimes.
This wrapped up a historic corruption case that marked a striking fall from grace for the country’s first female leader.
The decision brings to an end an extended legal process that involved multiple trials and appeals, including a previous Supreme Court hearing.
The daughter of military strongman Park Chung-hee was convicted of colluding with her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to take millions of dollars in bribes from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, between 2013 and 2016.
She was also indicted on charges of accepting monthly funds from her spy chiefs that were diverted out of the agency’s budget.
Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office when, in 2017, the Constitutional Court upheld a parliament vote to impeach her over a scandal that also landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.
She was convicted the following year of bribery and abuse of power and jailed for 30 years. A series of appeals, a retrial and further appeals followed which reduced her sentence to 20 years.
On Thursday, the case went for a second time before the Supreme Court, which said it accepted and confirmed the 20-year sentence.
The court also upheld fines and forfeits totalling 21.5 billion won (US$19.5 million).
Park, 68, who has been in jail since March 31, 2017, has denied wrongdoing. She has refused to attend her trials since October 2017 and did not attend Thursday’s ruling, saying they are biased against her.
In addition, she has separately been sentenced to two years in prison — to run consecutively — for election law violations.
Park now faces a total of 22 years behind bars and would be in her 80s by the time her sentence is up.
South Korean presidents have frequently ended up in prison after their time in power, usually once their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House.
All four of South Korea’s living ex-presidents have been convicted of criminal offences, and former head of state Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide in 2009 after being questioned over graft allegations involving his family.
However, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, former army generals who served jail terms in the 1990s for corruption and treason after leaving office, received presidential pardons after serving about two years.
Thursday’s ruling completes the trial process and makes Park legally eligible for a pardon herself.
Lee Nak-yon, the leader of President Moon’s Democratic Party, earlier this month said he “plans to suggest” pardoning Park and Lee Myung-bak, another former president currently serving a jail term, but faced an immediate backlash from politicians on both sides of the aisle.