Park Geun-hye, the former president of South Korea and its first female chief executive, was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Friday for corruption and abuse of power charges, effectively a life sentence for the 66-year-old defendant. She was also ordered to pay $17 million in fines.
“Ms. Park’s conviction on bribery, coercion, abuse of power and other charges was the first lower-court ruling on a criminal case to be broadcast live in South Korea. She is the country’s first former leader to be arrested and convicted of crimes since two former military-backed presidents were found guilty of sedition and corruption in the 1990s,” the New York Times noted.
“The defendant abused the presidential authority delegated from the people of this country and it resulted in a large amount of chaos in terms of public order and state management. The responsibility lies with the defendant who has abandoned her constitutional duties,” Judge Kim Se-yun told the court.
Many of the charges stemmed from Park’s association with her longtime friend and adviser Choi Soon-sil, who was sentenced to 20 years for corruption and influence peddling in February. In essence, Choi was accused of using her connections with Park to strongarm business interests into donating large sums of money to organizations she controlled.
Park did not appear in the courtroom on Friday, as she has been boycotting her hearings for the past year, but hundreds of her supporters protested her innocence outside, insisting that she was being persecuted in an act of “political revenge.”
Park herself has constantly denied any wrongdoing and protested her extended detention as the trial unfolded. She is expected to appeal her sentence.
Park was impeached in December 2016 by an overwhelming vote of the National Assembly, including many members of her own party. She contested her impeachment but was formally removed from office in March 2017, leading to the special election that seated the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. An arrest warrant was issued for Park shortly after she was removed from office.
Park’s corruption scandals were nothing short of apocalyptic for South Korea’s political culture, looping in the giant electronics corporation Samsung and sending the billionaire heir apparent to the company, Lee Jae-yong, to jail for 12 years in December. Lee was convicted of bribing Park in a bid to tighten his grip over the company.
Yonhap News details some of the 16 charges Park was convicted on:
The court counted 7.3 billion won as bribes she took from Samsung. It also acknowledged 7 billion won as kickbacks provided by retail giant Lotte to Choi’s nonprofit foundation.
The court found Park guilty of forcing SK to fund 8.9 billion won for one of Choi’s firms, though it was never paid.
Park was also convicted of the charges related to her government’s creation and management of an artist blacklist deemed critical of her government. Those on the list were denied state subsidies.
“The case put the relationship between the government and South Korea’s largest family-owned conglomerates, known as ‘chaebols,’ under the microscope, and brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Seoul demanding Park’s ouster, as a tide of popular anger against the perceived unfair influence of the chaebols swept the country,” Forbes noted on Friday.