South Korea’s disgraced former president Park Geun-hye was jailed for 24 years Friday for corruption, closing out a dramatic fall from grace for the country’s first woman leader who became a figure of public fury and ridicule.
A trial which lasted more than 10 months ended with Park being found guilty on multiple criminal charges, including bribery and abuse of power.
Park’s successor described the sentencing as a “heartbreaking event” for both the nation and the ex-leader herself.
“The accused abused the power bestowed by the people — the true ruler of this country — to cause chaos in national administration,” said Judge Kim Se-yoon.
“Despite all these crimes the accused denied all the charges against her, displayed no remorse and showed an incomprehensible attitude by blaming Choi and other … officials,” he said, referring to Park’s secret confidante and long-time friend Choi Soon-sil.
Park, 66, was convicted of receiving or demanding more than $20 million from conglomerates, sharing secret state documents with Choi, ordering officials to stop offering state subsidies to “blacklisted” artists critical of her policies, and firing officials who resisted her abuses of power.
The wide-ranging corruption scandal exposed shady links between big business and politics in South Korea, prompting massive street protests against Park last year.
But on Friday the ruling was greeted with dismay in streets outside the courtroom by several hundred flag-waving Park supporters.
Many protesters sat on the pavement in tears while others began a protest march.
“The rule of law in this country is dead today,” said Han Geun-hyung, a 27-year-old Park supporter.
Park herself was not in court for Friday’s judgement which, in a rare move, was broadcast live on television. She had boycotted most sessions of the trial in protest at being held in custody.
She now has seven days in which to file an appeal.
Park becomes the third former South Korean leader to be convicted on criminal charges after leaving office, joining Chun Doo-whan and Roh Tae-woo, who were both found guilty of treason and corruption in the 1990s.
Park’s presidential predecessor Lee Myung-bak is currently in custody as prosecutors investigate multiple corruption charges involving him and his relatives.
Judge Kim Se-yoon said he had passed a tough sentence to “prevent such an unfortunate event from happening again”.
Blue House said in a statement after the verdict: “Each person must have different feelings about former President Park Geun-Hye. But a bleak wind blew through the hearts of all of us today.
“It is a heartbreaking event for the nation as well as for the person’s life. A history that is not remembered is bound to be repeated. We will not forget today.”