SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for former President Park Geun-hye for bribery and other crimes as the historic corruption case ends, with a dramatic drop in grace for the country’s first woman leader and conservative icon.
The ruling means Park, who was removed from office and arrested in 2017, could potentially spend 22 years behind bars, following a separate conviction for illegally interfering in her party’s candidacies ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections.
But the finalization of her prison also makes her eligible for a special presidential pardon, which is looming as the country̵
President Moon Jae-in, a Liberal who won the by-election after the removal of Park, has not yet directly considered releasing his predecessor. Moon recently saw his approval ratings sink to new lows due to economic problems, political scandals and growing coronavirus infections.
Many conservative politicians have called for Moon to release Park and another convicted former president, Lee Moon Buck, who is serving a 17-year term for his own corruption allegations. At least one prominent member of the Moon Democratic Party, Lee Nak-Yon, supported the idea of pardoning former presidents as a gesture of “national unity.”
Park, 68, has described herself as a victim of political revenge. She has refused to attend her trials since October 2017 and did not attend Thursday’s ruling. Her lawyer did not answer calls, asking for comment.
The fall of Park and Lee Myung-bak extended for decades a series of South Korean presidencies that ended badly, fueling criticism that the country placed too much power, which was easily abused and often left unchecked in the hands of elected leaders.
Almost every former president or members of their families and aides are mired in scandals near the end of their term or after they leave.
A president, the father of Park dictator Park Chunghi, was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979. Another former president, Ro Mu Moon, a longtime friend and political mentor of Moon, jumped to his death in 2009 amid allegations that his family members took bribes from a businessman during his presidency.
Kang Min-seok, Moon’s spokesman, said the decision on Kang Hee Park marked the “maturation and growth” of democracy in South Korea, but added that the imprisonment of a former president for crimes was an “unfortunate” story that should not be repeats. Presidential officials avoided specific answers when asked about Luna’s ability to simplify Park and Lee.
Shin Young-Dae, a Democratic spokesman, asked Park to apologize for the “dumb shame” she had left on the country’s history.
Park was convicted of colluding with longtime confidant Choi Sung-sil to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, while in office from 2013 to 2016.
She was also accused of illegally accepting monthly allowances from her spy bosses, which were diverted outside the agency’s budget.
After weeks of protests by millions, Park was impeachment by lawmakers in December 2016 and formally removed in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment.
It was not immediately clear how Thursday’s decision would affect the legal saga of Samsung billionaire Lee Jae-Yong. Samsung Electronics’ 52-year-old vice president faces a ruling in Seoul’s Supreme Court next week in a retrial on charges of bribing Park and Choi to win government support for a 2015 merger between the two. Samsung subsidiaries, which helped strengthen control over the country’s largest business group.
Prosecutors are seeking a nine-year prison sentence for Lee, who has been charged with individual stock market manipulation, breach of trust and audit of merger violations. Lee’s lawyers portrayed him as a victim of abuse of presidential power and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business”.
Choi is currently serving an 18-year sentence in prison.
Park was originally facing more than 30 years in prison before the Supreme Court returned her cases to a lower court in 2019.
In 2018, the Seoul Supreme Court sentenced her to 25 years in prison after considering her together for bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other sentences.
But in October 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the Seoul Supreme Court to consider the Park bribery charge separately from other charges, based on a law that requires it for cases involving the president or other elected officials, even when the alleged crimes were committed. together.
In July 2019, the Supreme Court granted Park a five-year deadline for spy fund fees, but in November the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, ordering the lower court to file a broader charge of causing losses in state funds.
Prosecutors appealed after the Seoul Supreme Court gave Park a 20-year sentence last July after the two cases were joined.
If Park fully serves her sentence, she will be released in 2039 at the age of 87.