Justice for ParkState prosecutors in the final hearing against ousted President Park Geun-hye sought a 30-year prison term and a fine of 118.5 billion won ($110.4 million) for “leaving an inerasable blemish” on constitutional history. Such grave penalization is necessary to punish the former president for having personalized her elected power and impaired constitutional values, the prosecution claimed.
The special counsel team was expected to demand such a lengthy prison term for the 66-year-old Park, as it had proposed 25 years for Choi Soon-sil. Choi already has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in the first trial for influence-peddling and other abuses of power through her connection with the former president.
Park stands trial on the same bribery charges as Choi for coercing conglomerates to make donations. The former president faces greater punishment as she was a government employee, unlike Choi, who did not have any official title.
Park was absent at the final hearing. She has been refusing to attend the trials after the court denied her request for bail in October, saying she has lost faith in the bench. Her lawyers have since resigned and she is now defended by a team of state-appointed lawyers. Since she has refused to meet her lawyers, her defense took place on unilateral claims by the prosecution. She has betrayed the people who had hoped to hear her side of the story regarding her 18 counts.
Before she boycotted the trial, Park reiterated that she had not received a single dime. But she never explained to the court or the people why she went through such trouble to look after Choi without anything in return.
The scandal that led to the country’s first removal of an elected president has ended without a thorough fact-finding in court. It is regretful that Park could have delivered her story if she had been freed to prepare for her trial. She nevertheless has been irresponsible as a former state head by failing to speak for herself.
Despite bitter resentment towards her, it is uncomfortable to see a former president being slapped with a de facto life sentence by state prosecutors. Korean presidents have a tradition of falling from grace upon leaving office. The general-turned-presidents Chun Doo-hwan received the death sentence and Roh Tae-woo got 22 years. Former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun also received questioning from the prosecution. The prosecution is closing in on Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. There are few ex-presidents Koreans can admire.
Although the trial has been one-sided, the court must deliver a fair ruling. It must differentiate between facts and suspicions. It should not let public and political influence sway its judgment.
We await a fair judgment that can persuade and satisfy the people.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 30