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PoliticsSouth Korea

S. Korean ex-president Park freed after 5 years

December 31, 2021

Park Geun-hye was due to serve 24 years for corruption and abuse of power following her impeachment in 2017. The current president said her pardon was in the interest of "national harmony."

Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye being escorted by a uniformed female guard
Park was pardoned last week in a move the current president said was meant to overcome past divisionsImage: Kim Hong-Ji /REUTERS

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was released from prison on Friday, after serving nearly five years of a 24-year jail sentence for corruption and abuse of power.

Park, who was the country's first female president, was granted a special pardon by the government last week, along with nearly 3,100 other offenders.

In 2017, Park was the first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office over a scandal that also led to the imprisonment of the chiefs of two conglomerates, Samsung and Lotte.

The 69-year-old was found guilty of colluding with a friend, who is also in jail, to receive massive bribes from the companies, mostly to fund her friend's family and non-profit foundations.

Why has Park been freed?

Park was filmed by local media leaving a Seoul hospital where she has been receiving medical treatment for a month.

President Moon Jae In has pointed to Park's failing health as a reason for her release, but also said the pardon was intended to promote "national harmony."

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the hospital to celebrate the former president's release, with more than 1,000 bouquets of flowers arriving.

Park's imprisonment divided the country, with right-wing, pro-Park groups staging weekly rallies to denounce Moon and his policies and call for her release, until COVID-19 distancing rules stifled the rallies last year.

Her release is equally controversial. Several civil organizations, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), had called for the decision to be reversed at a protest in front of Moon's office this week.

South Korea returns to virus restrictions

Tight election approaches

Park's release has sparked rumors that she may play a role in the next presidential election, set for March.

Her old party, the main opposition conservative People Power Party and Moon's Democratic Party are in a tight race and her release may have some bearing on the outcome.

Park, who is the daughter of former dictator Park Chung Hee, said in a memoir released this week that her conviction was politically motivated and she expressed hopes to "meet the people again one day."

South Korean presidents can only serve one five-year term, meaning Moon cannot run again for the Democratic Party.

mm/dj (dpa, Reuters)