South Korean prosecutors request 30 years jail for disgraced former president Park
South Korean prosecutors requested on Tuesday a 30-year prison sentence for disgraced former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, who was impeached last year in a sensational corruption scandal.
The requested term, if granted, would be tantamount to a life sentence for Park, who is 66. Prosecutors also asked the Seoul Central District Court to fine her $110 million for her alleged crimes.
The court is expected to deliver its verdict and impose a sentence in late March or early April.
“Park is the person who is ultimately accountable for this influence-peddling scandal,” the prosecutor told Judge Kim Se-kyoon.
“This scandal left an indelible stain on our country’s history. However, it also gave rise to a meaningful movement among its citizens to reestablish democracy and rule of law,” he said, according to local reports from the courtroom.
Park is facing 18 charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power for her role in a plan to extort millions of dollars from South Korea’s biggest businesses for her personal gain. Her confidante Choi Soon-sil, the woman who carried out their extortion plans, was found guilty earlier this month and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Park has vigorously maintained her innocence throughout the case and has been refusing to attend her trial, saying she is the victim of “political revenge.” She did not appear in court when the prosecutors argued for the 30-year sentence.
Prosecutors held up her obvious disdain for the legal process as a sign of her lack of remorse for her involvement.
About 3,000 of the former president’s supporters demonstrated outside the court Tuesday as the prosecution was making its case. Draped in South Korean and American flags, the mostly older demonstrators said called the prosecutors “crazy” and said they would fight the sentencing.
“A 30-year sentence is even heavier than what murderers get. It’s so unfair,” said Ahn Hyo-min, a 24-year-old who was waving a Stars and Stripes flag outside the courthouse Tuesday, told the News1 agency.
Since legal reforms in 2009, the average sentence for murder in South Korea is 12 years in prison, according to a Kyungpook University study.
The Liberty Korea Party, which emerged from the ruins of the conservative party that Park led, called the request “more cruel than capital punishment” because it would force the former president to live out the rest of her life in shame.
Legal scholars said the prosecutors’s request reflected the unprecedented nature of the case.
“Thirty years is the maximum prison sentence that can be handed down in South Korea, short of life imprisonment,” said Rhee Joo-won, a law professor at Korea University. “The requested sentence is exceptional for any criminal, let alone for a former politician.”
A guilty verdict and a long jail term would complete the fall from grace for Park, who was a political princess in South Korea.
Her father, Park Chung-hee, took power in a military coup and was president during the 1960s and 1970s. He oversaw South Korea’s astonishing economic transformation from an agrarian backwater emerging from the ashes of war to an industrial powerhouse famous for building ships and electronics. But this came at the expense of civil liberties, as Park ruled with an iron fist.
Tragedy struck the family when Park Chung-hee’s wife was killed by a North Korean sympathizer in 1974. The bullet was meant for the president. Park Geun-hye, the daughter, then moved into the role of first lady until, five years later, her father was killed by his own spy chief.
During that tumultuous period, Park Geun-hye began seeking spiritual guidance from a shaman called Choi Tae-min, who said he could convey messages from her mother in the afterlife.
Park Geun-hye, who was notoriously reclusive and had become estranged from her siblings, became friends with Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, around this time and began to rely on her more and more.
The extent of Park’s reliance on Choi became clear in 2016, some three years after Park had been elected president herself.
Journalists uncovered evidence that Choi, who held no official position and no security clearance, had been advising the president on everything from her wardrobe to major policy speeches. It also emerged that Choi raised about $70 million from South Korea’s biggest businesses, including Samsung and Lotte, ostensibly for two foundations promoting sports.
In fact, the foundations were little more than private slush funds for Choi and Park and the donations were bribes for favorable business treatment.
After months of huge protests at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, Park was impeached in March last year. She was arrested soon afterward and has been in detention ever since.
The same judge who will now determine Park’s fate sentenced Choi to 20 years in prison and fined her almost $17 million for her role in the scheme. Prosecutors had sought a 25-year prison sentence and a $109 million fine for Choi.
Judge Kim said at the time that Park’s presidential Blue House was the “main agent” in setting up the bogus foundations to accept the donations.
The de facto head of Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, was convicted and imprisoned for paying bribes totaling $6.4 million to Choi, embezzling corporate money to fund the bribes, and then lying about it. Lee Jae-yong and other Samsung executives were accused of promising to pay $30 million more in bribes to Choi.
But a South Korean appeals court last month freed Lee only six months into his term, even as it upheld most of his convictions.