South Korea’s ex-president Park jailed for 24 years for corruption

Case exposed dubious links between government and the ‘chaebol’ conglomerates

 

South Korea’s disgraced ex-president Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined 18 billion won (€13.8 million) after a deep corruption scandal that revealed murky links between the Seoul government and the country’s industrial giants.

The Seoul central district court found the 66-year-old former leader guilty on 16 charges involving bribery, abuse of power, coercion and leaking state secrets, while her supporters milled around outside the court protesting her innocence and calling on US president Donald Trump to rescue her.

“The defendant abused the presidential authority delegated from the people of this country and it resulted in a large amount of chaos in terms of public order and state management,” judge Kim Se-yun said.

The sentencing was carried live on television. Park can appeal to a higher court.

Park was the daughter of South Korea’s late dictator Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979, and his wife Yook Young-soo, who was assassinated in 1974. The sentencing caps an astonishing fall from grace for South Korea’s first female president.

“The responsibility lies with the defendant who has abandoned her constitutional duties,” the judge said.

Prosecutors had sought a 30-year sentence. Park, who was president for four years from February, 2013, was arrested in late March last year after weeks of street protests by millions of Koreans.

The protesters demanded her removal from office for conspiring with her close confidante Choi Soon-sil to coerce South Korea’s biggest “chaeobol” conglomerates, including Samsung, SK and Lotte, into giving them billions of won in bribes.

She was also convicted of allowing Choi meddle in important state affairs. Choi was sentenced to 20 years in February, and has appealed the sentence.

Park boycotted her sentencing on Friday, staying in her cell in the Seoul detention centre, south of the capital. She maintains the charges were part of a premeditated plot against her.

She is the third former president of South Korea to be convicted of corruption. In addition her predecessor, fellow conservative Lee Myung-bak, was arrested last month over a bribery case relating to his 2008-2013 term in office.

Park was impeached in December 2016, then removed from office by constitutional court on March 10th last year. She has been on trial since May.

She was replaced by President Moon Jae-in, who stood for office on a promise to weed out “deep-rooted evil” across society and won a landslide victory.

Mr Moon’s office issued a stark statement: “Today we all had a dry and bleak wind on our hearts ... it’s heart breaking, not only from the point of view of a country but also a human’s life. They say history repeats if not remembered properly. We won’t forget today.”

During the case, bizarre details emerged of how Park and Choi used their political influence to secure billions of won that they then channelled through foundations in exchange for government favours.

In one case, Samsung donated the equivalent of millions of euro towards equestrian training for Ms Choi’s daughter, a budding horsewoman.

Park was also convicted of running a blacklist of artists and filmmakers critical of her government. Those on the list were denied state subsidies.

Taxpayers’ money was also used to buy medicines, including skincare products, placenta injections and the erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra, apparently for use to counter altitude sickness during a government junket.

The domestic political discord comes at a time when inter-Korean relations are closing in on a kind of thaw after Mr Moon and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un agreed to hold talks this month about resolving nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.