South Korea upholds jail for ex-president Park

Clay Curtis
January 15, 2021

The edited image provided by Yonhap News TV shows former President Park Geun-hye against the background of the Supreme Court in Seoul.

The country's top court is scheduled to hold a sentencing hearing at 11 a.m. over an appeal filed by prosecutors against a ruling in July that reduced Park's prison term. She was also fined 18 billion won and ordered to forfeit 3.5 billion won.

Her predecessor Lee Myung-bak has been in prison since November serving a 17-year sentence: judges found him guilty of corruption and embezzlement.

The top court is widely expected to uphold the 20-year prison term handed down last July.

The ruling on Thursday upheld the reduced term given to Park in July on appeal after she was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The downfall of Park and Lee Myung-bak extended South Korea's decades-long streak of presidencies ending badly, fueling criticism that the country places too much power that is easily abused and often goes unchecked into the hands of elected leaders. Without pardon or parole, she will complete her sentence in 2039, when she is 87 years old.

This brings an end to a legal process that began in 2017 when Park was removed from office and arrested on corruption charges.

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Park's friendship with Choi lay at the heart of her undoing. "We must make sure to take this unfortunate event - the imprisonment of the former President - as a historical lesson and avoid repeating it".

Lee Nak Yon, who is regarded as one of such presidential contenders, argued that pardoning them would be key to achieving national unity.

In 2017, Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong was found guilty of bribery and other corruption charges and sentenced to five years in prison.

"It is not appropriate to comment on pardons so soon after the Supreme Court decision was issued", Kang said. In the following month, Park was indicted on charges of coercing conglomerates to pay Choi bribes; taking money from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and illegally influencing the nomination process of her Saenuri Party before the 2016 general elections. Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-hwan spent two years in jail for insurrection and for organizing a coup: both were pardoned in 1997.

But the Supreme Court in October 2019 ordered the Seoul High Court to deal with Park's bribery charge separately from other charges, based on a law requiring so for cases involving a president or other elected officials, even when the alleged crimes are committed together.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee faces a final court ruling on Monday on whether he returns to jail on charges he bribed an associate of Park.

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