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Supreme Court confirms 20 years in prison for ex-president Park

The top court ruling puts an end to one of the greatest political scandals in Korea

Supporters of former President Park Geun-hye are gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Thursday to demand her release. (Yonhap)
Supporters of former President Park Geun-hye are gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Thursday to demand her release. (Yonhap)
The highest court upheld a 20-year prison term for former President Park Geun-hye, closing the final chapter in one of the greatest political scandals in South Korea to date.

The Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed the lower court’s decision to sentence Park to 20 years in prison and levy an 18 billion won ($16.37 million) fine for her part in a corruption case that cost her the presidency in 2017. The court also confirmed an additional forfeiture of 3.5 billion won.

In July, the Seoul High Court sentenced Park to 15 years in prison for bribery and five more years for abuse of power and other criminal charges, a ruling that was appealed by the prosecution.

Park was undergoing two separate trials in regards to the corruption scandal until the two cases were merged in December 2019.

The ex-president was indicted for conspiring with her close aide Choi Seo-won, also known as Choi Soon-sil, to make conglomerates cough up 77.4 billion won for Choi’s foundations. She was also accused of illegally accepting 3.5 billion won from three former heads of the National Intelligence Service until September 2016.

The top court kicked the two cases back to appellate court in August and November 2019 to clear her from some power abuse charges and an extortion charge, which ended with a combined 20-year prison sentence and 18 billion won fine for Park.

Before the cases were sent back to the lower court, Park was to be put away for 30 years, fined 20 billion won and ordered to forfeit 2.7 billion won.

With Thursday’s ruling, Park will spend a total of 22 years in prison, as she was already sentenced in 2018 to two years in prison for illegally meddling in a nomination process within the then-ruling Saenuri Party.

She will by 87 years old by the time her prison term ends in 2039.

The ruling also comes 45 months after Park was indicted under detention in April 2017 and 51 months after the corruption scandal first came to light in October 2016, putting an end to arguably the biggest political scandal in the country’s history.

Park became the first and only president to be stripped of power when the Constitutional Court in March 2017 upheld an impeachment voted through by the National Assembly three months earlier.

She is the fourth Korean president to go to prison, the others being Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan and Lee Myung-bak. Her immediate predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was sentenced to 17 years in prison and fined 13 billion won for embezzlement and bribery.

The special prosecutorial team in charge of Park’s cases said after the ruling that it “respects” the Supreme Court’s decision, adding that it looks forward to just rulings in the remaining cases related to the scandal.

The Constitutional Court ruled last month that the Park administration’s blacklisting of artists was unconstitutional, as it infringed on artists’ freedom of expression.

Main opposition People Power Party said it also respects the ruling, vowing to concentrate on its role as the main opposition political force in ensuring the “unfortunate history” is not repeated.

“The People Power Party, as the main opposition party, will work to keep democracy and legal order in place and work toward unifying the people,” party spokesperson Yun Hee-suk said in a statement Thursday.

The ruling Democratic Party urged Park to sincerely apologize to Koreans for scarring them and leaving a disgrace in the country’s history.

“I have said in the past that I will bring up the issue of pardon (to President Moon Jae-in) at the right time,” Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon told reporters.

“The party believes that the general consensus and the mind of the ones involved are important in this regard, and I respect that belief.”

The ruling party has been debating whether to grant pardons to ex-Presidents Park and Lee. But Moon pledged during his presidential campaign that he would not pardon people convicted of serious crimes, including bribery and embezzlement.

By Ko Jun-tae (