South Korean court jails ex-president Park for 24 years

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SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean court jailed former President Park Geun-hye for 24 years on Friday over a scandal that exposed webs of corruption between political leaders and the country’s conglomerates.

Ms Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.

The court also fined Ms Park, the daughter of a former military dictator, 18 billion won ($16.9 million) after finding her guilty of charges including bribery, abuse of power and coercion.

“The defendant abused her presidential power entrusted by the people, and as a result, brought massive chaos to the order of state affairs and led to the impeachment of the president, which was unprecedented,” judge Kim Se-yoon said as he handed down the sentence.

The court found Ms Park guilty of colluding with her old friend, Choi Soon-sil, to receive about 7 billion won ($6.56 million) each from Lotte Group and Samsung, while demanding 8.9 billion won from SK.

Most of the money was intended to bankroll non-profit foundations run by Ms Choi’s family and confidants, and to fund the education of Ms Choi’s horse-riding daughter, the court said.

Prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence and a 118.5 billion won ($112 million) fine for Ms Park.

Ms Park, 66, who has been in jail since March 31 last year, has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court.

The judge said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” but had instead tried to shift the blame to Ms Choi and her secretaries.

Ms Park apologised while in office for seeking help from Ms Choi, who had no policy or political experience, but that was as close as she came to admitting any guilt.

Kang Chul-koo, one of Ms Park’s state-appointed lawyers, said he would discuss with her the possibility of an appeal.

The sentence will be a bitter blow for Ms Park, who returned to the presidential palace in 2012 as the country’s first woman leader, more than three decades after she left it following the assassination of her father. Her ouster from office last year led to a presidential election won by the liberal Moon Jae-in.

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