South Korea's first woman PM jailed for illegal funding

Han was allowed to remain free pending her appeal, but Thursday's Supreme Court ruling means she will now go to prison.
Han was allowed to remain free pending her appeal, but Thursday's Supreme Court ruling means she will now go to prison.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's first female prime minister was headed for jail on Thursday after the Supreme Court upheld a conviction and two-year prison sentence for accepting illicit political funds.

Now 71, Han Myeong Sook served one year as prime minister from April 2006 under the administration of then-president Roh Moo Hyun.

In 2010, she was tried on charges of receiving 880 million won (S$1 million) from a businessman in illegal campaign funding for her eventually unsuccessful 2007 bid to secure her party's presidential nomination.

Han was acquitted by a district court which found the businessman's testimony unreliable, but that verdict was reversed in 2013 by the high court which sentenced her to two years' imprisonment.

She was allowed to remain free pending her appeal, but Thursday's Supreme Court ruling means she will now go to prison.

Currently a sitting MP, Han will automatically forfeit her seat in the National Assembly.

She was the first woman to hold the post of prime minister in South Korea, and will now become the first former premier to find herself behind bars.

Han has always denied accepting illicit money and accused the government of using state prosecutors to tarnish her reputation.

"I cannot accept the ruling," she said in a statement handed out following the Supreme Court decision.

"I declare honourably and squarely that I'm innocent," she said, adding that she was the victim of "political suppression".