Prosecutors: Ex-South Korean president deserves 30 years in jail
SEOUL, South Korea — Prosecutors on Tuesday demanded a 30-year prison term for former South Korean President Park Geun-hye for alleged bribery, abuse of power and other crimes in a landmark corruption case that marked a stunning fall from grace for the country’s first female leader and conservative icon.
In the final trial session before a verdict is issued, prosecutors also demanded a fine of $110 million and said Park has shown no remorse for “disrupting constitutional order and damaging the public’s trust in state power.”
Park did not attend the session at the Seoul Central District Court, which will issue its verdict April 6 — 11 months after the trial began.
“The defendant thoroughly destroyed the dreams and hope of people — this incident left a permanent scar in South Korean history and yet it also provided the opportunity for people to restore democracy and rule of law with their own hands,” prosecutor Jeon Jun-cheol told the court, according to a pool report.
“A stern punishment by the court is needed to send a message to the public and politicians that the tragic history should not be repeated,” he said.
If the court finds her guilty, Park would be the third South Korean president convicted of crimes. The others were former military generals involved in a 1979 coup and a 1980 civilian massacre.
Park has been boycotting the court sessions since October in protest of its decision to extend her detention by another six months. Park’s lawyers then resigned en masse and she has reportedly been refusing to meet with state-appointed lawyers who have since been defending her in court.
On Tuesday, Park’s lawyers argued the prosecutors have been unable to fully prove their charges against Park. They said it’s unclear whether the companies were pressured into providing money to foundations controlled by Park’s close confidante or whether the payments were linked to specific business favors.
“The president did not threaten the companies and the companies weren’t victims who paid money because they were scared,” said lawyer Park Seunggil. He said businesses will always try to maintain a friendly relationship with the government even when they aren’t seeking something definite in return.
“To put it in a bad way, it could be described as a close and cozy relationship between government and business. But while it would be simple for everyone if we could define what happened as bribery or extortion or both, the whole body of truth isn’t clear-cut,” he said.
Park has continuously denied any wrongdoing, and she is expected to appeal if convicted.
The court could force Park to attend her verdict. As usual in South Korean criminal trials, the court can set a new date for the ruling if she doesn’t show up and take steps to summon her, including issuing an arrest warrant, if she refuses to appear for the second time. Some legal experts said the court could also directly issue a verdict without her presence in court.
Following massive protests by millions and impeachment by lawmakers in December 2016, Park was formally removed from office and arrested in March last year amid allegations she colluded with longtime friend Choi Soonsil to take tens of millions of dollars from companies in bribes and through extortion. The court sentenced Choi to 20 years in prison earlier this month, and more severe punishment was expected for Park.
Current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office last May in a by-election, has said he won’t use his powers to pardon Park.