Presidential Blue House to jail house: South Korea's criminal precedents

Almost all of South Korea's presidents have seen their reputations tarnished because of corruption scandals. Top row, from left: Lee Myung Bak (2008-2013), Park Geun Hye (2013-2017). Bottom row: Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1988), Roh Tae Woo (1988-1993), Roh
Almost all of South Korea's presidents have seen their reputations tarnished because of corruption scandals. Top row, from left: Lee Myung Bak (2008-2013), Park Geun Hye (2013-2017). Bottom row: Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1988), Roh Tae Woo (1988-1993), Roh Moo Hyun (2003-2008).PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

This story was first published on March 14, 2018, and updated on April 9, 2018

SEOUL (AFP) - Most former South Korean presidents of recent decades have had their retirements interrupted - or terminated - by legal troubles.

On Monday (April 9), Lee Myung Bak - who occupied the presidential Blue House from 2008 to 2013 - was indicted for corruption. He has been charged with bribery, power abuse, embezzlement, and tax evasion. 

This comes after his successor, Park Geun Hye, was jailed for 24 years - also for corruption - last Friday following a trial lasting more than 10 months. 

Here are details of their cases.

CHUN DOO HWAN

Chun, a former army general who ruled from 1980 to 1988, served prison time in the 1990s for charges including treason and bribery.

Chun was convicted of staging a military coup in 1979 to seize power after the death of longtime army dictator, Park Chung Hee, and of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars from local businessmen.


Yeoh Ghim Seng and former South Korean President
Chun Doo Hwan (right) at the Singapore Island
Country Club where they had a round of golf. PHOTO: ST FILE

Now 87, he was initially sentenced to death, before the penalty was commuted to life in prison by the country's highest court in 1997.

He was released eight months later when the then president Kim Young Sam pardoned him.

ROH TAE WOO

Roh, Chun's successor who served from 1988 to 1993 and also a former general, was convicted of similar offences, including both treason and bribery, at the same trial.

He was initially sentenced to life in prison, reduced to 17 years on appeal.

Now 85, Roh also received a presidential pardon and walked free on the same day as Chun in 1997, albeit from a different prison.

ROH MOO HYUN


Moon Jae In shakes hands with Roh Moo Hyun after receiving an appointment certificate at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on March 12, 2007. PHOTO: REUTERS

Roh, a liberal who served from 1998 to 2003, killed himself in 2009 while being probed over graft.

A former human rights lawyer and the mentor of current president Moon Jae In, he enjoyed huge popularity among liberal young voters.

But the graft probe targeting him as well as his family - described by Roh's supporters as a politically motivated move orchestrated by Lee Myung Bak, who was president at the time - tarnished the reputation of the former leader whose role model was former US president Abraham Lincoln.

Roh threw himself off a cliff three weeks after his interrogation by prosecutors.

President Moon, who had served as his chief of staff, later said that the shock suicide prompted him to seek elected office himself.

PARK GEUN HYE


Former President Park Geun Hye arrives at court to attend a hearing on the extension of her detention, in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct 10, 2017. PHOTO: EPA=EFE

Park, 66, was impeached last year (2017) amid a massive corruption scandal involving her secret confidante, Choi Soon Sil, and was last Friday jailed for 24 years. 

 

The sentence closed out a dramatic fall from grace for the country’s first woman leader, who became a figure of public fury and ridicule, after a trial lasting more than 10 months. 

Park was found to have colluded with her long-time confidante, Choi Soon Sil, to receive tens of billions of won from major South Korean conglomerates to help Choi’s family and fund non-profit foundations owned by her.