S. Korean court upholds ex-President Park’s prison sentence

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld former President Park Geun-hye’s prison sentence for bribery and other crimes as it ended a historic corruption case that marked a stark fall from the country’s grace. first female leader and conservative icon.

The decision means Park, who was fired and arrested in 2017, could spend a total of 22 years behind bars after a separate verdict was handed down for the illegal interference of his party’s candidates ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections.

But the finalization of his prison will also qualify for a special presidential pardon, which is a threatening opportunity as the country’s deeply divided voters approach the next presidential election in March 2022.

President Moon Jae-in, a Liberal who won the presidential by-election after Park was removed, has not yet addressed directly the possibility of releasing his predecessor. Moon has recently seen his approval ratings sink to new lows due to economic problems, political scandals and growing coronavirus infections.

Many conservative politicians have called for Moon’s release against Park and another convicted former president, Lee Myung-bak, who is serving a 17-year term on his own corruption charges. At least one prominent member of the Moon’s Democratic Party, Lee Nak-yon, supported the idea of ​​the grace of former presidents as a gesture of “national unity”.

The 68-year-old Park described himself as a victim of political revenge. Since October 2017, he has refused to take part in his trials and has not taken part in Thursday’s verdict. His lawyer did not send the calls to ask for comments.

The fall of Park and Lee Myung-bak prolonged South Korea’s decades-long presidency series, which ended badly, fueling criticism that the country is giving too much power that is easily abused and often not controlled by elected leaders.

Almost all former presidents, or their family members and assistants, are flooded with scandals towards the end of their term or after leaving office.

One of the presidents, Park Dung’s father, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated in 1979 by his spy chief. Another former president, Roh Moo-hyun, Moon’s long friend and political mentor, jumped to death in 2009 amid allegations that his family members had taken bribes from a businessman during his presidency.

Moon spokesman Kang Min-seok said the decision on Park Geun-hye marked the “maturation and growth” of South Korean democracy, but added that imprisoning a former president for crimes was an “unfortunate” history that should not be repeated. . Presidential officials avoided specific responses when asked if Moon could grant grace to Park and Lee.

Shin Young-dae, a Democratic Party spokesman, asked Park to apologize for the “unwashable shame” left on the country’s history.

Park was convicted for colluding with his confidant, Choi Soon-sil, for a long time to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion money from one of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, while in office from 2013 to 2016.

He was also charged with illegally accepting monthly funds from his spy bosses, which were diverted from the agency’s budget.

After millions of weeks of protest, lawmakers indicted Park in December 2016 and formally removed him from office in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court upheld the prosecution.

It was not immediately clear how Thursday’s decision would affect Lee Jae-yong’s billionaire Samsung corner legal sentence. The 52-year-old vice president of Samsung Electronics will decide in the Seoul Supreme Court next week on charges of bribing Park and Choji to win government support for the 2015 merger between Samsung’s two subsidiaries, which helped strengthen its control. over the largest business group in the country.

Prosecutors are demanding nine years in prison against Lee, who has been specifically charged with stock market manipulation, breach of trust and breach of control over the merger. 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 prison sentence.

Park was originally sentenced to more than 30 years in prison before the Supreme Court in 2019 sent its cases back to a lower court.

He was sentenced by the Seoul Supreme Court to 25 years in prison in 2018 after being jointly tried for bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other convictions.

But in October 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the Seoul Supreme Court to deal with the Park bribery charge separately from other charges, under a law that provides for this in cases involving the president or other elected officials, even if the alleged crimes are committed together.

The Supreme Court granted Park a five-year term in July 2019 for the fees for the spy funds, but the Supreme Court also ordered a retrial in November, instructing the lower court to apply the indemnification of losses of public funds more widely. .

Prosecutors appealed after the Seoul Supreme Court gave Park a 20-year mandate last July after merging the two cases.

If Park fully serves his sentence, he will be released in 2039 at the age of 87.