South Korean prosecutors seek 30-year jail term for ex-president Park Geun Hye

Ousted South Korean President Park Geun Hye arriving for questioning on her arrest warrant at the Seoul Central District Court on Mar 30, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - South Korean prosecutors on Tuesday (Feb 27) sought a 30-year jail term for former President Park Geun Hye who was ousted last year amid an influence-peddling scandal as supporters demanded her immediate release.

Park, whose father was former dictator Park Chung Hee, was dismissed in March after being impeached and is standing trial on charges of bribery, abuse of power and coercion in a case that brought scrutiny to the cosy ties between South Korea's political leaders and its chaebol, or family-run conglomerates.

She denies wrongdoing.

The prosecution's recommendation came two weeks after Choi Soon Sil, a longtime friend of Park seen as wielding outsized influence over the ex-president, was jailed for 20 years for taking bribes from chaebol including electronics powerhouse Samsung and retail giant Lotte in exchange for government favours. Receiving bribes carries a penalty of up to life in jail.

Fifteen of the 18 charges Choi faced mirror charges against the ex-president.

Prosecutors are also seeking a 118.5 billion won (S$) fine for Park, who has been detained since March 31 last year and on trial since May.

"(Park) brought a national crisis by letting a person who has never been involved in state management rule the country," a prosecutor said.

"She and Choi took tens of billions of won in bribes and yet denied her crimes and obstructed efforts to establish the truth."

The prosecutors also rebuked Park for "allying with the chaebol instead of the people".

Park Seung Gil, a lawyer representing the former president, tearfully pleaded before Seoul Central District Court for mercy, saying Park had tried her hardest in leading the country "day and night".

Park, 66, did not attend the hearing. A verdict is expected on April 6.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the court despite the winter cold to proclaim Park's innocence. "Immediately release our president," they chanted.

The Liberty Korea Party, a conservative opposition party formerly led by Park, condemned the call for jail.

"What the prosecution is demanding is harsher than the death penalty," the party said in a statement.

Seoul Central District Court had also sentenced Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin to two years and six months' jail in the same case.

However Seoul High Court suspended a prison sentence on charges including bribery and embezzlement for Samsung Group heir Lee Jae Yong in early February - a surprise decision that sent shockwaves through political and business circles.

The court sentenced Lee to two and a half years in jail on charges including bribery and embezzlement - reducing the original term by half - but suspended the sentence for four years, meaning that he is unlikely to serve any more time in jail.

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