Seoul court to deliver verdict on ex-president Park Geun Hye over massive graft scandal

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

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - A Seoul court is to deliver its verdict on Friday (April 6) for former president Park Geun Hye over the massive corruption scandal that led to her ouster last year.

The Seoul Central District Court is scheduled to start the sentencing hearing at 2.10pm local time (1.10pm Singapore time). It will be the first ruling by the lowest court to be televised live. Last year (2017), the Supreme Court amended the law to allow broadcasting of a trial if deemed necessary in the public's interest.

Park, 66, faces 18 charges including bribery, abuse of power and coercion. Prosecutors demanded 30 years in prison and a fine of 118.5 billion won (S$146 million) for the former president. A hefty sentence is expected, as the court has already given her accomplices guilty verdicts over many wrongdoings that overlap with Park's.

In February, Choi Soon Sil, a longtime confidante of the former president, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, a fine of 18 billion won and a forfeiture of 7.29 billion won. Park is also accused of 11 charges that her friend has been convicted of. In addition, Choi's ruling was chosen as evidence for Park's trial.

Kim Ki Choon, a former presidential aide to Park, was also sentenced to four years in prison for creating a blacklist of artists that were deemed to be critical of the conservative Park administration at the time.

Park is unlikely to attend Friday's hearing, as she has been refusing to attend trials after the court extended her detention in October for another six months.

 

The former president, who has been in custody since late March last year, submitted a handwritten letter on Monday, objecting to the court's decision to allow live broadcasting of the hearing.

But the court viewed it as being of public interest and approved the broadcast on Tuesday. Park's former lawyer filed for an injunction against the court, saying it would be "infringing upon the defendant's right to a fair trial going forward".

Park is accused of receiving 59.2 billion won in bribes from conglomerates, including Samsung, Lotte and SK, along with her civilian friend Choi. The former president is also suspected of colluding with Choi to coerce donations worth 77.4 billion won for two non-profit foundations allegedly run by Choi.

Other charges include Park abusing her power to give favourable treatment to her associates and leaking government secrets.

Park was removed from office on March 10 last year by a unanimous decision from the Constitutional Court. She had less than a year remaining in her five-year term.

Park has legions of loyal supporters, most of them older conservatives who remember her father’s authoritarian 18-year rule, beginning in 1961, when their country began its remarkable surge towards becoming an economic power.

Many supporters are expected to gather outside the court.

Park’s impeachment last year followed months of protests against her by younger, liberal voters, who will be hoping the court ruling will represent a major step towards ending the old, self-serving collusion between political leaders and the chaebol conglomerates.

Park is the latest former leader of South Korea to run afoul of the law.

Her predecessor, Lee Myung Bak, is also being investigated for corruption.

Chun Doo Hwan, a former military dictator, was found guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption in 1996. He was sentenced to death but released after two years under a presidential pardon.

Chun’s successor, Roh Tae Woo, was also convicted of treason, mutiny and corruption in 1996 and jailed for more than 22 years but served just over two years before being released.