The Supreme Court of South Korea on Thursday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for former President Park Guen-hye who was convicted on charges of abuse of power, bribery and coercion in 2018. The rejection of Park’s appeal exhausts all legal remedies, leaving open only the option of a special presidential pardon by incumbent President Moon Jae-in.
Park took office in 2013 as the country’s first female president and first elected head of state in East Asia. She is also the daughter of former President and military dictator Park Chung-hee. She was impeached from office by the National Assembly in December 2016 after being found to be colluding with her confidante Choi Soon-sil to take millions of dollars in bribes from South Korea’s major conglomerates, including Samsung Electronics.
The Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment and removal from office the subsequent year. It also indicted her on charges of illegally taking funds that were diverted from the intelligence agency’s budget. In 2018, the Seoul Central District Court sentenced her to 24 years of imprisonment, reduced to a 20-year term in July 2020 following a retrial by the Seoul High Court.
The 20-year sentence upheld by the Supreme Court includes 15 years of imprisonment for bribery charges, five years for abuse of authority and a fine of 18 billion won ($16.38 million). Park also faces an additional two-year sentence of imprisonment for illegally interfering with the nomination of candidates for the Saenuri Party (now Liberty Korea Party) during the 2016 legislative elections. She is thus expected to face a prison term of 22 years if she does not receive a presidential pardon. The public opinion for such a pardon is divided, as revealed in a population survey by pollster Real Meter, with 48 percent against and 47.7 percent in favour of granting amnesty.
The right-wing Our Republican Party has released multiple statements calling for Park’s acquittal. It has termed the impeachment “illegal,” and claims the trial was politically motivated. Meanwhile, President Moon has not made his decision yet despite mounting public pressure for clarification on his position.