South Korea Political scandal: Supreme Court serves 20 year prison term for former president

Thursday, 14 January 2021 - 23:05

South Korea's Supreme Court on Thursday (14 Jan 2021) upheld a 20-year prison term for former President Park Geun-hye over bribery and other crimes.

The former president was her country's first democratically-elected leader to be forced from office in a fallout that also landed two conglomerate heads in prison.

It is the final ruling in the historic corruption case that saw the country's first female leader impeached in 2017 and concludes a lengthy legal process.

In total, she could serve up to 22 years, following a separate conviction for illegally meddling in her party's candidate nominations ahead of parliamentary elections in 2016.

The court on Thursday also upheld fines and forfeits totaling 21.5 billion won (US$19.5 million).

She was convicted of colluding with her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from some of the country's largest business groups, including Samsung, while she was in office from 2013 to 2016.

She was also indicted on charges of illegally taking monthly funds from her intelligence chiefs that were diverted from the agency's budget.

Park was impeached by lawmakers in December 2016, following weeks-long popular protests. She was officially removed from office in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment.

The Seoul High Court in 2018 had sentenced her to 25 years in prison after reviewing her of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other convictions together.

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

Park, the daughter of a former military dictator, is not the only ex-president to have been arrested for corruption.

In 2018, former leader Lee Myung-bak was charged with corruption over allegations he took bribes while in office. On 22 March 2018, Lee was arrested on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and tax evasion alleged to have occurred during his presidency. Lee was convicted on 5 October 2018 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. On 29 October 2020, the Korean Supreme Court upheld a 17-year sentence against Lee given to him by an appellate court.

The ex-leader has always denied wrongdoing and refused to take part in any of the court proceedings.

Two others, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s.

In 2009, former president Roh Moo-hyun killed himself while he was under investigation for corruption.