S. Korean court sends Park, Samsung heir cases to new trials

South Korea’s top court sent back jailed ex-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 lawmakers 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 last year sentenced Park to 25 years in prison after convicting her of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other charges together. That was an extension of a 24 year-year prison term set by a district court, which also handled Park’s charges together.

South Korean Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Kim Myeong-su, top center, sits with other justices upon their arrival at the Supreme Court in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. South Korea’s top court on Thursday sent back jailed ex-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 top court on Thursday sent back jailed ex-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 lawmakers 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 last year sentenced Park to 25 years in prison after convicting her of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other charges together. That was an extension of a 24 year-year prison term set by a district court, which also handled Park’s charges together.

But the Supreme Court ordered the Seoul High Court to deal with Park’s bribery charge separately from other charges, based on a law requiring so for cases involving a president or other elected officials, even when the alleged crimes are committed together.

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

Park will remain in jail because the court did not overturn all her convictions but only the charges that it believed required a separate trial. And even in sending back the bribery charges to the lower court, the Supreme Court wasn’t sending the case back with instructions to consider that she might be innocent.

Park was convicted of colluding with a 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 more than 7 billion won ($6.5 million) 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 programs. Park was also convicted of passing on presidential documents with sensitive information to Choi via one of her presidential aides.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Seoul High Court to start new trials for Choi and Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s billionaire heir, who earlier received a 20-year prison term and a suspended prison term respectively. Observers said Choi could get an increased prison term and Lee a prison sentence at new Seoul High Court trials.

In 2017, Lee, vice president of Samsung Electronics, was sentenced to five years in prison for providing bribes to Park and Choi in return for a government backing for his attempt to bolster his control over the Samsung group and other charges. But in early 2018, he was set free after the Seoul High Court overturned some of his convictions and suspended his sentence.

His earlier imprisonment surprised many because South Korean courts had long showed leniency toward crimes by business tycoons. Lee is the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman Lee Kun-hee.

Samsung Electronics released a statement saying it regrets “causing concern to (Korean) people” over the corruption case and that it wouldn’t repeat past mistakes. The statement did not include specific comments on Thursday’s decision.

“Moving forward, we will fully commit ourselves to our original role as a business so that we do not repeat past mistakes,” the Samsung statement said.

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

A daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, she was once the darling of conservatives in South Korea and dubbed by local media as the “queen of election” 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: Reuters

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