Appeals court gives Park one more yearAn appellate court in Seoul added another year to former President Park Geun-hye’s jail sentence on Friday, bringing her total to 25 years in prison and a 20 billion won ($17.8 million) fine for corruption and abuse of power.
The Seoul High Court upheld all charges, which include conspiring with her long-time confidante Choi Soon-sil to force a number of Korea’s major conglomerates to contribute money and sign deals with non-profit foundations and companies controlled by Choi.
Park was originally sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined 18 billion won by a lower court on April 6. She subsequently filed papers disclosing her intention to give up on an appeals proceeding, but the appellate trial continued nonetheless as prosecutors applied to appeal the verdict.
Unlike in her first trial, the appellate court on Friday also found Park guilty of receiving a bribe from Samsung Group by forcing it to fund a winter sports education center effectively run by Choi. The lower court had earlier ruled that Park was guilty of coercing the conglomerate to pay up, but said there was not enough evidence to constitute the crime as a form of bribery.
The appellate court, however, judged that the circumstances surrounding the payment, such as its amount, form and recipient were all very clear, and that Samsung paid the money with full knowledge that the organization did not serve the public interest.
“An unethical transaction between political and economic powers undermines democracy and distorts the proper order of the market economy,” the court statement read. “This has given the people an enormous feeling of loss and eroded confidence in our society.”
The acknowledgement of this bribery charge has increased her sentence by another year and her fine by 2 billion won.
The court in Friday’s hearing also censured Park’s continued boycott of her trials - which she has refused to attend since October last year in protest of an earlier court decision to extend her physical detention - saying that she has shown no remorse for her wrongdoings despite having been impeached from the presidency and the extraordinary amount of suffering endured by the people.
Park was impeached by over a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly in December 2016 and formally removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling in March 2017 after months of public outcry following revelations of her alleged criminal activities while in office.
After the appellate ruling came out on Friday, prosecutors said they plan to appeal the case a final time with the Supreme Court to reach a verdict compatible with the law. They have sought 30 years in prison and a fine of 118.5 billion won in both of her trials so far.
The ousted president also faces eight additional years in a separate sentence involving the embezzlement of funds from the country’s spy agency and violating election laws. Though this other trial is yet to be appealed, Park could be jailed for up to 33 years with these two verdicts.
In a separate hearing on Friday, a court upheld a 20-year sentence and a 20 billion won fine for Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil in her own appellate trial. Choi also faces 18 charges, 13 of which she shares with Park.
A third figure jailed for his involvement in the scandal, Ahn Jong-beom, Park’s former senior secretary for economic affairs, meanwhile had his sentence on Friday reduced from six to five years in prison and was charged a 20 billion won fine. Ahn’s testimonies and meticulous records documented in a personal notebook were instrumental in the numerous investigations on the former president.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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