Former South Korean leader Park Geun-hye to be pardoned

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SEOUL, South Korea – The government of President Moon Jae-in announced Friday that it will pardon former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of bribery and others criminal charges.

Ms Park, 69, who became the first democratically elected South Korean leader to be removed from office by parliamentary impeachment, will be released on December 31 to promote “reconciliation and consolidate national power to help overcome the national crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ”the Ministry of Justice said in a press release.

She has served four years and nine months of her sentence to date. Concerns about his health were raised after he was transported to a hospital in Seoul, the capital, for various illnesses last month.

Whether Ms Park deserved a pardon became a controversial political issue ahead of the presidential election in March. Mr. Moon’s office, which by law cannot stand for re-election, had so far seemed elusive when reporters asked about Ms. Park’s release prospects.

Mr Moon said Ms Park’s declining health was also a factor in her government’s decision to release her.

“It is time for us to muster our resources and move forward into the future,” he said in a statement, calling for national unity to help overcome “the many difficulties facing the nation” . He added: “I hope this amnesty will help to overcome differences of opinion and usher in a new era of consolidation and harmony.”

Ms Park thanked Mr Moon and his government for their forgiveness and once again apologized to the public for the scandal, her lawyer, Yoo Young-ha, said on Friday after meeting Ms Park at the hospital.

Ms Park has been pardoned under a broad amnesty that has benefited 700 other prisoners, whose remaining prison terms will be either eradicated or halved. The South Korean president has the power to grant amnesty to prisoners under the Constitution, and has often exercised it to mark major national holidays or the start of a new year.

Ms Park, a daughter of former military dictator Park Chung-hee, was in her fourth year in office in 2016 when hundreds of thousands of protesters began months of weekly rallies in central Seoul demanding that she be forced to leave office for corruption and incompetence. .

In December, the National Assembly indicted her for corruption and abuse of presidential power in a case that exposed deep collusive links between powerful politicians and the huge family-controlled conglomerates in South Korea, known as the name of chaebol.

In March 2017, Ms Park was removed from her post after the Constitutional Court upheld lawmakers’ decision to impeach her. Soon after, she was arrested on several criminal charges. In a first judgment rendered in April 2018, she was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In January this year, the Supreme Court approved a reduced 20-year prison term for Ms. Park and ordered her to pay an 18 billion won ($ 15 million) fine, claiming that she and her friend longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil had collected or demanded $ 19.3 million in bribes from three large companies, including $ 7 million from Samsung, the largest and most lucrative trading group in South Korea.

Courts ruled Samsung offered bribes to Ms Park and her friend to help garner government support for an attempt by company vice president Lee Jae-yong to inherit control management of his father, Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung, who passed away last year.

Young Mr. Lee, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in the corruption scandal, was paroled in August, when South Korea released hundreds of prisoners to mark Aug. 15 Day of the National Liberation, which commemorates the end of Japanese colonial rule of South Korea at the end of World War II.

Despite her conviction, Ms. Park still had a significant number of staunch supporters, mostly older conservative South Koreans, who staged rallies in downtown Seoul, calling her innocent and demanding her release.

Those who pleaded for his pardon have compared his case to those of former military dictators Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo. After leaving office, Mr. Chun was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Mr. Roh was sentenced to 17 years in prison for sedition and mutiny. The charges arise out of their roles in a 1979 military coup that brought Mr. Chun to power and in the massacre of protesters in southwestern Gwangju town the following year. Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh were both pardoned in 1997 after serving two years in prison.

Lee Jae-myung, who is running in the March presidential election as Mr Moon’s Democratic Party candidate, opposed Ms Park’s early release, saying she had not repented sufficiently for the crimes she had committed.

Another former president, Lee Myung-bak, is serving a 17-year prison sentence for corruption and embezzlement. But Mr. Lee was not included in the amnesty announced on Friday. Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate for the conservative opposition People Power Party, had said he would consider pardoning both Ms Park and Mr Lee if elected.

Mr. Moon’s government has granted a special amnesty to former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, one of the president’s former political allies. Ms. Han was sentenced to two years in prison in 2015 for collecting illegal political donations. She finished her term in 2017. On Friday, the government said her civil rights, such as the right to vote and stand for election, would be restored.

The government also released Lee Seok-ki, a progressive politician, on parole on Friday. He was arrested by Ms. Park’s government in 2013 for conspiring to start an armed revolt to overthrow the Seoul government in the event of war with North Korea. He served all but nine months of his nine-year sentence.

Mr Lee was the first South Korean lawmaker to be found guilty of plotting treason since the country’s former military dictators used such accusations to silence dissent decades ago. South Korean progressives had demanded his release, calling him the victim of what they saw as a political witch-hunt led by Ms. Park to suppress her political enemies.

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