Supreme Court says ousted president was guilty
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld ousted President Park Geun-hye's convictions for abuse of power, taking bribes and misappropriating funds from the country's spy agency, ordering her to serve 20 years in prison.
The nation's top court upheld a Seoul High Court ruling in July 2019 and two sentences: A 15-year prison term and an 18-billion-won ($16.35 million) fine for abuse of power and taking bribes from conglomerates, and a five-year prison term for taking money from the National Intelligence Service (NIS). It also ordered her to repay 3.5 billion won to the state.
The final ruling Thursday concluded Park's three years and nine months of trials on those charges. In a separate but related trial, she received a two-year prison sentence for illegally influencing the ruling Saenuri Party's candidate nomination process for 2016 general elections. She has already completed serving that sentence.
Park, 69, who took office in February 2013, was impeached by the National Assembly in December 2016 and removed from office in March 2017. She was taken into custody shortly after her removal from the presidency and has remained in prison since.
Without pardon or parole, she will complete her sentence in 2039, when she is 87 years old.
Park, currently being held at the Seoul Detention Center, did not attend the final hearing at the Supreme Court on Thursday. Park has refused to participate in any trials since October 2017 and maintains her innocence of all charges,
"The Supreme Court ruling realized the constitutional spirit that this country is a democratic republic," presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said Thursday. "It means Korea's democracy has matured and advanced."
Kang said the country must learn a lesson from the unfortunate tragedy that put a former president in prison.
With the Supreme Court's judgement, Park's trial has formally ended, making her eligible for a presidential pardon.
On the eve of the Supreme Court ruling, Choi Jae-sung, President Moon Jae-in's senior presidential secretary for political affairs, said in a radio interview that granting pardons to Moon's two predecessors would depend on public opinion.
"It is inappropriate to talk about pardoning [Park] as soon as the Supreme Court announced the ruling," said a presidential aide Thursday. "I have not heard any special response from the president."
Chairman Lee Nak-yon of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) said Thursday that Park must issue a heartfelt apology to the people. "I have previously said I will propose special pardons to the president at an appropriate time," Lee said. "And the party decided that a national consensus and the two former presidents' apologies are important, and I respect the decision."
Earlier this month, Lee said he would propose to Moon to grant special pardons to Park and former president Lee Myung-bak for the sake of national unity. In October 2020, the Supreme Court upheld a 17-year prison sentence convicting Lee of embezzlement and taking bribes. After spending weeks behind bar, Lee was recently moved to the Seoul National University hospital for medical treatment.
The main opposition PPP said Thursday that it accepted the Supreme Court ruling with a heavy heart. "It is our duty to stop the recurrence of this unfortunate history," Rep. Yun Hee-suk, spokesman for the PPP, said. "As the largest opposition party, we will continue our efforts to respect democracy and law and order and promote national unity."
The PPP's acting chairman Kim Chong-in issued a public apology last December, saying the party had failed to keep Lee and Park in check when they were in office.
The PPP leadership, however, did not make any comment on the idea of possible pardons on Thursday. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) on Wednesday, Kim said, "Moon, for his own purpose, will grant pardons sometime in the future."
Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the PPP, has urged Moon to grant the pardons as soon as possible.
The Justice Party said Thursday that it adamantly opposes the idea of pardons for Lee and Park.
While the Blue House avoided any comment on the issue, Moon will have to talk about the sensitive political issue if asked at an upcoming New Year's press conference.
Park, the eldest daughter of strongman Park Chung Hee, was the first woman president of the country, and also the first president ousted from the office by impeachment.
She has spent the longest time behind bars among former presidents. As of Thursday, she had been detained for 1,385 days, and Lee 428 days.
Former president Chun Doo Hwan was sentenced to life in prison and successor Roh Tae-woo 17 years for treason in 1996, but President Kim Young-sam granted them special pardons in December 1997. Chun spent 750 days in prison and Roh 767.
Park's downfall began with a JTBC report in October 2016 that said drafts of Park's presidential speeches and other secret documents were leaked to her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, who held no public office. (JTBC is part of the JoongAng Media Group.) Park admitted publicly to listening to Choi's advice, and the prosecution launched a probe into Park's sharing of national secrets with Choi and possible abuse of power.
After an independent counsel was appointed, the National Assembly passed a motion to impeach Park in December 2016. The Constitutional Court on March 10, 2017, ordered her removal from office.
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. The party later changed its name to the Liberty Korea Party and then to the People Power Party.
She was convicted of all charges and sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison by the Seoul Central District Court in April 2018. While Park and the prosecution stopped appealing the two-year prison term for election law violations, the prosecution continued its appeals on other charges.
The Seoul High Court on July 10, 2020, slashed 10 years from her prison terms, ordering her to serve 15 years for forcing conglomerates to pay bribes and another five years for misappropriating the NIS money.
Others indicted in the presidential scandals were also convicted of grave charges. The Supreme Court convicted Choi, indicted as Park's co-conspirator, in June 2019 and sentenced her to an 18-year prison term. She was also ordered to pay 20 million won in fines and repay 6.3 billion won to the state.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is still appealing convictions for paying bribes to Park and Choi. His Supreme Court ruling is scheduled for Monday.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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