Ex-S. Korean leader Park gets 24-year prison term

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PV International Desk : Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was formally convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison on Friday, a year after she was driven from office and arrested over a corruption scandal that saw months of massive street rallies calling for her ouster.

The conviction, which she can appeal, is the latest hit in a dramatic fall for South Korea’s first female president. Once seen as the darling of South Korean conservatives, she was dubbed “Queen of Elections” by local media for her track record of leading her party to victory in tight races and still has a small group of fierce supporters who regularly stage rallies calling for her release.

Park maintains she’s a victim of “political revenge” and has been refusing to attend court sessions since October. She didn’t attend Friday’s verdict, citing a sickness that wasn’t specified publicly.

In a nationally televised verdict, the Seoul Central District Court convicted Park of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other charges. “It’s inevitable that the defendant should be held strictly responsible for her crimes, if only to prevent the unfortunate event of (a president) abusing the power given by the people and causing chaos in state affairs,” chief judge Kim Se-yun said.

Along with the prison sentence, Park was also fined 18 billion won ($16.8 million), Kim said.

Both Park and the prosecutors have one week to appeal. Park has previously maintained her innocence; prosecutors in February demanded a 30-year prison term.

The Seoul court convicted Park of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to pressure 18 business groups to donate a total of 77.4 billion won ($72.3 million) for the launch of two foundations controlled by Choi. The two women were also convicted of taking bribes from some of those companies, including more than 7 billion won ($6.5 million) alone from Samsung in return for government support for a smooth company leadership transition.

The court said Park colluded with senior government officials to blacklist artists critical of Park’s government to deny them state assistance programs. Park was also convicted of passing on presidential documents with sensitive information to Choi via one of her presidential aides.