S. Korea's Park faces 32 years in total behind bars

South Korea's former president Park Geun-hye was yesterday found guilty on charges of causing loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election and given eight more years in prison, on top of her current 24-year term on separa
South Korea's former president Park Geun-hye was yesterday found guilty on charges of causing loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election and given eight more years in prison, on top of her current 24-year term on separate charges.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Prison time for former leaders: One squandered taxpayer money for upkeep of own house; the other failed to reveal plan to lease luxury flat from an investor granted broadcasting licence. South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye has been handed an additional jail sentence, while Hong Kong’s ex-chief executive Donald Tsang loses his appeal against a misconduct conviction.

SEOUL • A South Korean court yesterday sentenced former president Park Geun-hye to eight more years in prison after finding her guilty on charges of causing loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election.

Park, South Korea's first female president, is already serving a 24-year term after she was found guilty by a lower court in April of separate charges including bribery, abuse of power and coercion.

All sentences must be served consecutively, a court spokesman said. This means the 66-year-old now faces a total of 32 years in prison.

Park became South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that exposed a web of corruption between political leaders and the country's powerful conglomerates, or chaebol.

Park has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court. It was unclear whether she would appeal.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled that Park colluded with her former aides to cause the loss of government funds worth about 30 billion won (S$36 million) from the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

SHIFTING BLAME

Park's private use of the funds weakened the principles of executing government funds, and barred the country's chief spy agency from using the funds for its core duty of protecting the country and the people. However, the defendant has shifted blame to her assistants and refused to appear in court.

PRESIDING JUDGE SEONG CHANG-HO, when delivering the verdict against former president Park Guen-hye.

The court ordered a fine of 33 billion won.

The money was from a "special activity fund" allocated to the spy agency, totalling four billion won every year but exempt from state audits or parliamentary reports.

Two of the three former NIS directors involved were sentenced to 31/2 years in prison last month, and the third to three years.

All three men testified they had funnelled the funds to Park on her orders, the court said.

The judge rebuked Park, who denied the charges, for being "un-cooperative" throughout the court hearing and questioning by prosecutors.

Park allegedly squandered the taxpayer money on maintaining her private house, financing a boutique where her secret confidante Choi Soon-sil - the central figure in the corruption scandal - had Park's clothes made and other private purposes, including massages.

Choi was found to have taken advantage of her "long private ties" with Park to extort bribes worth millions of dollars from businesses including Samsung and Lotte.

She is serving a 20-year sentence for abuse of power, bribery and meddling in state affairs.

Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong was convicted of corruption charges linked to the case last August. He was given a suspended sentence and released from prison in February.

Park was also found guilty of interfering in the ruling party's selection of candidates for the parliamentary election, breaching the president's obligations to remain politically neutral.

"Park's private use of the funds weakened the principles of executing government funds, and barred the country's chief spy agency from using the funds for its core duty of protecting the country and the people," presiding judge Seong Chang-ho said as he delivered the verdict.

"However, the defendant has shifted blame to her assistants and refused to appear in court," the judge said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korea's Park faces 32 years in total behind bars'. Print Edition | Subscribe