April 6 (UPI) — Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye will spend up to 24 years in prison on corruption charges, a court in Seoul ruled Friday.
Park, 66, was not present at her sentencing, citing health problems, and has boycotted proceedings since October, The Guardian reported. She has one week to appeal the charges against her.
Also fining her $16.8 million, the court found that Park colluded with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to solicit bribes from South Korean conglomerates in exchange for policy favors.
Park, removed from office in March 2017, faced 18 charges for her crimes, which included pressuring SK Group and Lotte Group to donate to the K-Sports Foundation for projects and granting them business favors in return.
The ex-president was also found guilty of creating a blacklist of artists and writers who were hostile to the government and deliberately excluding them from government support.
Choi received a 20-year sentence in a lower court for taking bribes, while Park’s former chief secretary, Kim Ki-choon, and Cho Yoon-sun, her political secretary and culture minister, were also convicted and sentenced to four years and two years, respectively.
“As the head of state, Park ignored her responsibility and abused her power to destabilize the country, which is a total disrespect to citizens who elected her as president. Making it worse, she only denied all charges, which is not appropriate,” Judge Kim Se-yoon said.
Thousands gathered outside the Seoul courthouse to protest Park’s sentencing on Friday, with many calling the trial “unfair.” Supporters carried South Korean and American flags, sang the national anthem and chanted for Park to be freed.
“She should be released today, but instead she effectively gets a death sentence,” Alex Fisherman, a Korean adoptee who traveled from the United States to Seoul for the protest, told The Guardian. “Because of her age, she’ll likely die in prison. It’s a very sad story.”
State prosecutors initially demanded a 30-year sentence and a fine of $110 million for Park, who is now the third former president of South Korea to be convicted in criminal court.