New trial opens for disgraced South Korea ex-leader Park Geun-hye

In a file photo taken on Aug 7, 2017, South Korea's ousted president Park Geun-hye arrives at the Seoul Central District Court for her trial. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - The retrial of ousted former South Korean president Park Geun-hye began on Wednesday (Jan 15) over the sprawling corruption scandal that saw her impeached, convicted and jailed, only for the hearing to end after five minutes.

Park, the country's first female president, boycotted the session, Yonhap news agency reported - she has refused to take part in the judicial proceedings against her for more than two years.

As a result, the Seoul High Court adjourned and scheduled another session for Jan 31, when it will move straight to closing arguments, Yonhap reported.

Park was brought down in 2017 after huge street protests triggered by allegations that she and a close friend took bribes from top conglomerates for government favours.

She was convicted in April 2018 on bribery and abuse of power charges and sentenced to 24 years, later extended for an additional 12 months, and 20 billion won (S$23.3 million) in fines.

She has also been sentenced to five years' jail for illegally taking money from the country's spy agency and two years for election law violations.

The penalties apply consecutively, meaning she is currently serving a total of 32 years.

But the Supreme Court has ordered a combined retrial of the corruption and spy agency cases, saying some of the bribery accusations should have been dealt with as separate charges - which may lead to a heavier sentence.

The corruption scandal exposed shady links between big businesses and politics in South Korea, with Park and her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, accused of taking bribes from conglomerates, including Samsung Electronics, in exchange for preferential treatment.

Park was convicted in April 2018 of receiving or demanding more than US$20 million (S$26.9 billion), sharing secret state documents, "blacklisting" artists critical of her policies, and firing officials who resisted her abuses of power.

Her left-leaning successor, Mr Moon Jae-in, was swept to power by the public backlash against her and her conservative party.

South Korean presidents have frequently ended up in prison after their time in power, usually once their political rivals have moved into the presidential Blue House.

All four of South Korea's living former presidents have been convicted of criminal offences, and former head of state Roh Moo-hyun died of suicide in 2009 after being questioned over graft allegations involving his family.

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