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MB’s release spurs call for Park’s

Chances are slim, but murmurs of a pardon by Moon are growing

Mar 08,2019
Following former President Lee Myung-bak’s release from jail Wednesday on bail, conservative politicians said Thursday that his successor, Park Geun-hye, should be freed after nearly two years of detention.

“She was detained for a long time, and her health conditions are reported as poor,” Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said Thursday after a party leadership meeting. “I hope to see a measure that takes into account public opinion.”

It is the first time that Hwang addressed the issue since he took the chairmanship of the LKP last month. When the former prime minister of the Park administration joined the LKP in January to start his political career, he said pardoning Park is a legal action but also a political one, and said a decision should be made that would serve national unity.

Park, who was president from 2013 until her ouster on March 10, 2017, was sent to the Seoul Detention Center on March 31, 2017, after a local court issued a warrant to detain and investigate her over a series of crimes she allegedly committed during her presidency. She has remained in state custody throughout her trial.

Both Lee and Park have their roots in the LKP, as they won their presidencies on its ticket. From 1997 to 2012, the conservative party was called the Grand National Party. Park changed its name to the Saenuri Party, until it was renamed the LKP in 2017 following her impeachment.

“Many people agree that Park’s sentence is too heavy,” said Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the LKP, in a radio interview. “The public says that this administration is no different from the past administration when it is judged with the same standard.”

“I expect former President Park, detained for two years now, to be released,” Hong Joon-pyo, former LKP chairman, said in a Facebook post following Lee’s release on bail on Wednesday. An appeals court granted bail for Lee after nearly a year of imprisonment on the condition that he will be placed under house arrest. Park’s supporters, including the Korean Patriots Party also demanded that she be released immediately.

The possibility of bail is unlikely, because her status is different from that of Lee’s. While he was a criminal defendant under detention due to risk of evidence tempering, Park is a convicted felon. According to the Criminal Procedures Act, only a criminal defendant under detention can file a motion for release on bail to the court.

In November 2018, the Seoul High Court ruled her guilty of having meddled in the nomination process of the Saenuri Party before the 2016 general election and handed down a two-year prison term. Neither Park nor the prosecution appealed.

It was the first finalized sentence for Park since her trial began in April 2018. Later in August, she was convicted of bribery and abuse of power in the presidential scandal by the Seoul High Court and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The prosecution appealed the ruling to extend her imprisonment and the Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case. In February, the Supreme Court extended her detention until April 16, 2019. Immediately after the deadline, the two-year prison term for the election law violation will start.

Park can still ask the prosecution to suspend the execution of her imprisonment. Different from bail, which is decided by a court, the prosecution will make this decision. Because the suspension of imprisonment execution requires specific reasons, such as health conditions, and needs an approval by a panel which includes outside members, legal experts said the possibility is not high.

Another possibility for Park to leave her cell is a special pardon by President Moon, but there are some specific requirements. According to the Amnesty Act, only prisoners whose convictions and sentences are finalized can be subject to special pardon. For Park to receive a special pardon for the upcoming anniversary of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day, all her trials must be finished before then.

While her election law violation case was concluded, she is facing two trials. The Supreme Court is reviewing her abuse of power case and the Seoul High Court is reviewing a charge that she took bribes from the National Intelligence Service.

Despite the low chance of a pardon, the possibility of her release is a political hot potato. Last month, lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha, the only person Park allows to visit her at the detention center, criticized Hwang, then a candidate for LKP chairman, for trying to keep her distance from the impeached president. That quickly prompted speculation that this was Park’s message and that she intends to create her own political party once she is out of jail.

If realized, this will be a nightmare for the conservative party ahead of next year’s general election - and a strong temptation for the Moon administration to do so to split the rivals. A senior source from the ruling party, however, denied the possibility.

“It is absurd,” he said. “Even if her convictions and sentences are finalized, there is no possibility that she will receive a pardon by Moon.”

BY SER MYO-JA, HAN YOUNG-IK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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