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The Final Court Sentence for Park Geun-hye Could Be a Burden on President Moon

Lee Ju-young, Yu Sul-hee 입력 2021. 01. 15. 17:58

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Sentence for Park Geun-hye Finalized: 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 18 billion won for abusing state authority and receiving bribes. Yonhap News

The Supreme Court, in a second ruling, upheld the sentence of 20 years in prison for former President Park Geun-hye (69, pictured), who stood on trial for abusing state authority and receiving the funds allocated to the special activity expenses of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The latest court decision once again turned the spotlight on the special pardon of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, which stirred controversy when Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Nak-yeon first suggested it early in the new year. The pardon is the sole right of the president, so the ball has practically been tossed to President Moon Jae-in. The president will have to make a difficult political decision after considering whether there is enough public consensus on the pardon for Lee and Park as well as the political position of the ruling party leader who first suggested the pardon for national unity.

Some experts pointed out that without a sincere apology and reflection by the two former presidents, a pardon would only ignite criticism that the president was abusing his right to grant pardons and would end up causing more conflict and division.

On January 14, Petty Bench 3 of the Supreme Court (chief justice Rho Tae-ak) upheld the decision in an appellate trial and sentenced Park to 20 years’ imprisonment. The final ruling came four years and three months after the abuse of state authority was first revealed with the discovery of a tablet owned by Choi Seo-won (previously Choi Soon-sil) in October 2016. Park and Choi were arrested and prosecuted in April 2017 for scheming to receive bribes from Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, in the form of funding for Chung Yoo-ra’s equestrian expenses (bribery according to the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes). Chung is the daughter of Choi.

The Supreme Court upheld the rulings in the lower court and sentenced Park to 15 years in prison, a fine of 18 billion won with additional fines of 200 million won for receiving bribes in connection to her duties as president, and sentenced her to 5 years in prison and additional fines of 3.3 billion won for receiving the money allocated for special activity expenses in the National Intelligence Service. Therefore, Park will have to serve a total of 22 years in prison, including the two-year sentence for her intervention in the candidate nomination process of the Saenuri Party (currently the People Power Party) for a parliamentary election. Park is the fourth president to receive a final prison sentence following former presidents Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan and Lee Myung-bak.

The final ruling by the Supreme Court has turned the eyes of politicians to Cheongwadae, because Cheongwadae had said that it could discuss the pardon, suggested by Lee Nak-yeon, only after the Supreme Court ruling was finalized. The conservative opposition has already voiced demands for the president’s pardon.

Cheongwadae announced its position on the ruling and said, “We will have to learn a historic lesson from the unfortunate case, a former president serving time in prison, and make sure we do not repeat such incidents.” In a press briefing, Cheongwadae spokesperson Kang Min-seok said, “The case of the abuse of state authority has closed with the legal judgment by the court, following the candlelight revolution of the people and the impeachment by the National Assembly,” and added, “This realizes the spirit of our Constitution, that the Republic of Korea is a democratic republic, and means that democracy in South Korea has developed and matured.”

He avoided any direct mention of the pardon. A key Cheongwadae official said, “It is inappropriate to mention a pardon as soon as the Supreme Court decision is out,” and further said, “I did not hear the president mention anything (in connection to the pardon).” However, inside Cheongwadae, voices argue that it will not be easy for the president to grant a pardon without any sincere apology or reflection from Park. On January 13, Choi Jae-sung, Cheongwadae senior secretary for political affairs also said, “It (the pardon) should be determined at the eye level of the people” He implied that the president had in mind the fact that there are more negative views on the pardon among the public and that there is still fierce opposition from within key ruling party supporters.

However, the topic was first raised by Lee Nak-yeon as an honest advice for national unity, and the president also set integration and inclusion as the direction for state administration this year, so some experts believe it will not be easy for the president to ignore this issue. One Cheongwadae official said, “There is opposition against the pardon inside Cheongwadae, but we can’t tell which side the president is leaning towards.” President Moon is expected to share his position in a New Year’s press conference soon.

ⓒ 경향신문 & 경향닷컴(www.khan.co.kr), 무단전재 및 재배포 금지

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