Park Geun-hye: South Korea court upholds 20-year jail term for ex-leader

image copyrightAFP

image captionMs Park was brought to court in May 2017 shortly after her arrest

South Korea’s Supreme Court has upheld a 20-year jail term for former President Park Geun-hye who was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion.

The ruling on Thursday upheld a reduced jail term given to Park in July after she was originally sentenced to serve a prison term of around 30 years.

Prosecutors had tried to appeal against that reduction.

Park, South Korea’s first female president, was toppled from power in 2017 over a vast corruption scandal.

The court on Thursday also upheld her fine of 18bn won (£12m, $17m).

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

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She was initially sentenced to around 30 years in jail and fined 20bn won, but a high court later reduced the fine and the term – to 15 years for corruption with another five for abuse of power.

Thursday’s ruling by the country’s top court is the final verdict in the case.

What was she convicted of?

Park was South Korea’s first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

In 2018 she was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most of which related to bribery and coercion.

The court ruled that she had colluded with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure conglomerates such as electronics giant Samsung and retail chain Lotte to give millions of dollars to foundations run by Choi.

She was also convicted of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter.

In addition, Park was found guilty of leaking confidential presidential documents to Choi.

What led to her downfall?

Park’s friendship with Choi lay at the heart of her undoing.

They were childhood friends and Choi swiftly became the leader’s most trusted confidante.

But their relationship came under intense public scrutiny and Choi was deemed to have had undue influence over the nation’s affairs through her connection with Park.

image copyrightReuters

image captionChoi (centre) was a longtime friend and adviser to former South Korean President Park Geun-hye

After a prolonged series of hearings and months of street protests calling for her resignation, Park was finally removed from office in March 2017, making her the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

She was arrested shortly afterwards.

image copyrightAFP
image captionPark’s supporters gathered outside the court in Seoul demanding her release

Who else was caught up in this?

Some of the biggest South Korean companies and their leaders have been drawn into the scandal, as well as numerous figures from the entertainment world and government servants.

Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y Lee, was singled out in particular after details emerged that he had given a horse to Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, who is an equestrian.

He was sentenced to jail, but only served five months before he was freed, when an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

Ms Chung has also faced scrutiny, and was extradited from Denmark to South Korea last year to face questioning.

Is this unusual in South Korea?

Park, the country’s first female leader, was also the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

But she is not the only former 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.

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.

More on this story

BBC News – Asia

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