According to President Moon Jae-administration, in’s former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a 20-year jail sentence after being found guilty of bribery and other crimes, will be pardoned on Friday.
Her release on December 31 will allow her to promote “reconciliation and national power to help overcome the national crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to the Justice Ministry. Ms. Park, 69, was the first democratically elected leader in South Korea to be removed from office after being impeached in parliament in 2011.
At this point in her sentence, she has completed four years and nine months of it. Concerns were raised about her health when she was admitted to a hospital in Seoul, the country’s capital, for a variety of diseases earlier this month.
The question of whether Ms. Park deserved to be pardoned has become a controversial political issue ahead of the presidential election scheduled for March. Ms. Park’s attorney, Mr. Moon, who is not eligible to seek for re-election, had sounded noncommittal until today when reporters inquired about the possibility of her release from detention.
“It is past time for us to pool our resources and go on,” he said in a statement, asking for national unity to assist the country overcome “the various hardships that it is now experiencing.” “I believe that this amnesty will assist in bridging differences of opinion and ushering in a new age of consolidation and peace,” he said.
Ms. Park expressed her gratitude to President Moon and his administration for her pardon and expressed her regret to the Korean people for the controversy, according to her lawyer, Yoo Young-ha, who met with Ms. Park in the hospital on Friday.
She was released as part of a broader amnesty that included exonerated 700 other criminals, whose remaining jail sentences would either be eliminated or reduced by half. According to the Constitution of South Korea, the president has the authority to give amnesty to inmates, and he has often used this authority to commemorate big national festivals or the beginning of a new year.
It was in December of that year that the National Assembly impeached her on allegations of bribery and abuse of presidential authority, in a case that revealed strong collusive relationships between influential politicians and the massive family-controlled companies known as chaebol in South Korea.
Ms. Park was removed from office in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court confirmed the parliament’ vote to impeach her. She had been in office since 2011. She was taken into custody shortly after and charged with a number of criminal offences. A preliminary decision issued in April 2018 resulted in her being sentenced to 24 years in jail.
A reduced 20-year prison sentence for Ms. Park was approved by the Supreme Court in January this year, and she was ordered to pay 18 billion won ($15 million) in fines. This included $7 million from Samsung, South Korea’s largest and most profitable business group.
After a lengthy investigation, the courts determined that Samsung had given bribes to Ms. Park and a friend in order to gain government support for an effort by the company’s vice chairman Lee Jae-yong to take over managerial control from his father, Lee Kun-hee, who died in December.
A large number of devoted followers, largely elderly conservative South Koreans, rallied in downtown Seoul in favour of Ms. Park despite her conviction. They said she was innocent and demanded that she be released.
The cases of previous military rulers Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo have been brought up in support of her pardon, and some have drawn parallels between them. Following their resignations, Mr. Chun was sentenced to life in prison and Mr. Roh was sentenced to 17 years in jail on accusations of sedition and mutiny. Charges were filed against them because of their participation in a military coup that brought Mr. Chun to power in 1979, as well as in a slaughter of protestors in the southern city of Gwangju the following year. Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh were both pardoned in 1997 after spending a total of two years in prison.
Mr. Moon’s government gave a special amnesty to former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, who was a political ally of the president in the previous administration. Ms. Han was sentenced to two years in jail in 2015 on allegations of illegally soliciting political funds for political candidates. She served her whole term till 2017. In a statement released on Friday, the administration said that her civil rights, including the ability to vote and run for office, will be restored.
On Friday, the administration also granted parole to Lee Seok-ki, a progressive lawmaker who had been imprisoned. On claims that he conspired to initiate an armed insurrection to topple the government of South Korea in the event of a conflict with North Korea, he was apprehended by Ms. Park’s administration in 2013. He has completed his nine-year sentence, with the exception of nine months.
The conviction of Mr. Lee was the country’s first politician to be convicted on treason charges in decades, after the use of such accusations to muzzle political opponents by the country’s former military leaders decades earlier. The release of Mr. Kim was requested by progressive South Koreans, who claimed that he was the victim of what they saw to be a political witch hunt by Ms. Park in order to punish her political opponents.