She was sentenced to 24 years in prison and a fine of $16m on charges of bribery, extortion and influence-peddling in a court ruling on Friday.
Park, 66, was convicted of coercing and demanding bribes worth more than $21m from major South Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, Lotte and SK, in collusion with her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Choi, who was found guilty of using her friendship with Park to meddle in state affairs for personal gain, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in February this year.
“Park abused her power given by the people of the Republic of Korea, only to breach the freedom that corporates can enjoy in their management,” said presiding Judge Kim Se-yoon at Seoul Central District Court.
“If she fails to pay the court fine, she has to pay by serving a labour programme instead.”
Abuse of power
Park, who was South Korea’s first female president, was also convicted of abusing her power to dismiss and appoint civil officers and blacklisting artists and cultural figures critical of her administration.
Welcoming the verdict, the ruling liberal Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) called it a “deserving result” for what Park had done abusing her power while in office.
“We see the ruling fit for what Park has committed using her power to violate the rule of the country and its constitutional order,” read the statement issued by the DPK.
The DPK also condemned Park for boycotting the trial since October 2017.
“It’s an act of arrogance for Park not to be present in a series of trials, which is clearly an act to disregard the people of the Republic of Korea.
“She has to repent her own wrongdoings in front of the people and its history and stop showing such attitude that goes against the will of the people.”
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) deplored the verdict.
“We deplore the court’s decision to broadcast the trial live like a sports event. It is President Moon Jae-in who should be scared of consequences of today,” said Jeon Hee-kyeong, spokesperson of the LKP.
Park was expelled from the LKP in November last year after her impeachment and subsequent removal from office.
Thousands of Park’s loyal supporters took to the streets near the Seoul Central District Court on Friday to protest against the courts’ decision.
They marched along the streets, calling for “immediate release” of the former president.
Some of their placards read: “Reinstate President Park immediately” and “Release the most innocent President Park Geun-hye immediately”.
‘A historic trial’
Experts said the verdict was as expected and was in line with other verdicts in one of the biggest corruption scandals to have hit South Korea.
“It is a historic trial. The verdict was anticipated, but it has shortcomings,” said Park Jun-woo, lawyer and vice secretary-general of Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun).
Jailed former South Korean presidents have been released by presidential pardons by their successors.
Jeon Du-hwan, who received the death penalty, and Roh Tae-woo, who got a 20-year jail term, spent only two years each in prison.
“It’s against fairness and justice if Park is to be released only serving her jail terms for two years while the people who colluded with still in prison,” said Park of Minbyun.
“There are so many people related to the corruption scandal. She is the one most responsible for it.”
In December 2016, South Korean legislators overwhelmingly voted to impeach Park, but she refused to resign, instead offering an apology while denying any legal wrongdoing.
Three months later, the eight-member Constitutional Court voted unanimously to remove her from office.
She was charged and arrested soon after her dismissal from office.
Park Geun-hye is the daughter of another president, Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961 and was assassinated eight years later.