South Korean court increases ex-president Park’s jail term to 25 years

Park Geun-hye was ousted from office last year and jailed on corruption charges

Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye   is escorted to a courtroom to stand trial on alleged bribery, abuse of power and leaks of government secrets, in Seoul, South Korea, in  August 2017. Photograph: EPA

Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye is escorted to a courtroom to stand trial on alleged bribery, abuse of power and leaks of government secrets, in Seoul, South Korea, in August 2017. Photograph: EPA

 

A South Korean court has raised Park Geun-hye’s sentence by one year to 25 years, after prosecutors sought a tougher sentence for the former president who was ousted from office in 2017.

The increased sentencing marks the latest stage in a fall from grace for the ex-president, who is the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee.

Ms Park (66) has been in jail since March 31st last year but denies any wrongdoing. She did not attend the Seoul high court sentencing, saying she has lost faith in the judiciary and claiming the proceedings against her are politically motivated.

Ms Park has already been sentenced to eight years for a separate conviction on charges including illegally receiving funds from the South Korean intelligence services. As the sentences run consecutively, she could be well into her 90s before she is eligible for release.

The former president was charged with conspiring with her long-time friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil into forcing big “chaebol” conglomerates, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 billion won (€60 million) into foundations controlled by Ms Choi.

Impeached

Ms Park was impeached and removed from office by South Korea’s constitutional court in March, the first democratically elected president to be removed from office in the country’s history.

“Such unethical dealings between political power and financial power harms the essence of democracy and distorts order in the market economy, giving the people a grave sense of loss and deep distrust of our society,” judge Kim Mun-suk said in the latest ruling. “A strict penalty is unavoidable.”

In the run-up to her impeachment, millions took to the streets every weekend to call for her removal from office. Among the other charges against her, which were not prosecuted by the constitutional court, were that she neglected her duties during the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed more than 300.

The election following her removal saw the liberal candidate Moon Jae-in come to power last year. Since then relations with North Korea have improved significantly.

Ms Park’s case has highlighted the murky web of connections between the government and the powerful chaebol, who represent a large part of the South Korean economy.

Bribes

The court ruled that part of Samsung’s donations made to one of Ms Choi’s foundations counted as bribes, reversing a lower court’s decision. The higher court said there was an “implicit understanding” between Ms Park and Samsung Electronics heir apparent Jay Y Lee about getting government backing for a key internal merger.

In February, Mr Lee was sentenced to 2½ years in jail on charges including bribery and embezzlement, but the sentence was unexpectedly suspended and he was released.

The court also ruled that money paid by the Lotte chaebol in Ms Choi’s foundation counted as a bribe.