The South Korean Supreme Court yesterday upheld a 20-year jail sentence for former president Park Geun-hye on graft charges that led to her downfall, bringing an end to the legal process while for the first time raising the possibility of a pardon.
Park, 68, became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office when the Constitutional Court in 2017 upheld a parliament vote to impeach her over a scandal that also landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.
The daughter of a military dictator, Park took office in 2013 as South Korea’s first female president. She was brought down after being found guilty of colluding with a confidante to receive tens of billions of won from major conglomerates to help her family and fund nonprofit foundations she owned.
Her case has been heard in different courts, including a retrial in July last year, but yesterday’s ruling to uphold a 20-year jail term and fine of 18 billion won (US$16.4 million) exhausts her legal avenues.
Park, who has been in jail since March 31, 2017, has denied wrongdoing. She was not present in court.
The end of the legal process clears the way for a presidential pardon, which her supporters called for.
“President Park Geun-hye is innocent,” the right-wing Our Republican Party said in a statement.
“The members of Our Republican Party want president Park to be freed as soon as possible.”
Democratic Party leader Lee Nak-yon has floated the idea of a pardon for Park and another former South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, also in jail on corruption charges, in the name of national unity.
Park is a divisive figure in a country where old Cold War fault lines between right and left can still define political rivalry.
A top aide to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is a liberal, said the president would make a decision on the question of a pardon for Park that reflects the will of the people.
Society appears split down the middle.
A survey by the pollster Realmeter last week found 47.7 precent of respondents in favor of a pardon and 48 percent against.
Samsung Group vice chairman Jay Y. Lee faces a final court ruling on Monday on whether he returns to jail on charges he bribed an associate of Park.
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