S Korea top court orders new trial of Park Geun-hye bribery case

Country’s first female president faces prospect of longer jail sentence as court orders separate trial of bribery case.

FILE PHOTO: Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye arrives at a court in Seoul
Park has refused to attend her trials since October 2017 and did not attend Thursday's court session [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

South Korea‘s top court on Thursday sent back jailed former President Park Geun-hye‘s corruption case to a lower court for separate trials for her previously-convicted charges, a ruling that could increase her already-lengthy prison term.

South Korea’s first female president was impeached by legislators in December 2016 and officially removed from office in March 2017 over the scandal that triggered months of street rallies involving millions of people.

An appellate court earlier sentenced Park to 25 years in prison over bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other charges. That was an extension of a 24-year prison term set by a district court.

But the Supreme Court ordered the Seoul High Court to deal with Park’s bribery charge separately from other charges.

Local media said Park could face a lengthier prison term because courts handling a case with multiple charges typically do not impose all the maximum sentences for each charge.

Park was convicted of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from businesses, including Samsung, while she was in office from 2013 to 2016.

The two women were also convicted of taking bribes from some of those companies, including an equivalent of $6.5m alone from Samsung.

Park was also earlier convicted of colluding with senior government officials to blacklist artists critical of her government to deny them state assistance programmes.

Park was also convicted of passing on presidential documents with sensitive information to Choi via one of her presidential aides.

Park, 67, has called herself a victim of political revenge, has refused to attend her trials since October 2017 and did not attend Thursday’s court session.

Park, a daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, was once the darling of conservatives in South Korea and dubbed “Queen of election” by local media for her ability to win tight elections.

Her fall badly smashed conservatives in South Korea and helped her main liberal rival and current President Moon Jae-in win an easy victory in a by-election triggered by her early departure.

Park has been embroiled in two other smaller scandals which led her to be sentenced to two years in prison for violating an election law and five years in prison for abusing state funds. That meant Park has faced the prospect of serving more than 30 years in prison.

Source: AP