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Court adds 8 more years of prison time for Park

July 21,2018
A Seoul court sentenced former President Park Geun-hye to eight more years in prison on Friday for embezzling funds from the country’s spy agency and violating election laws.

The additional sentence brings the ousted 66-year-old president’s total sentence to 32 years in prison. In April, the same court sentenced her to 24 years on charges of corruption and power abuse.

The Seoul Central District Court on Friday ruled that Park illegally accepted around 3.5 billion won ($3 million) from the National Intelligence Service between May 2013 and September 2016. She was sentenced to six years for the charge and fined 3.3 billion won. The two additional years were for campaign violations.

Park, who took office in 2013, was ousted in March 2017 for conspiring with her friend Choi Soon-sil to abuse presidential power and receive bribes from conglomerates. In a separate trial in April, she was sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined 28 billion won on 16 charges of corruption and power abuse. She is appealing that decision.

Last October, prosecutors obtained testimony that alleged three former chiefs of the National Intelligence Service - Nam Jae-joon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Byung-ho - had regularly delivered 50 to 100 million won to the Blue House every month over the course of three years.

The issue escalated into a major scandal after a former Blue House aide revealed that the money had been drawn from the spy agency’s special operations fund and that Park herself had tended to the money.

In January, prosecutors indicted Park for bribery and embezzlement. They recommend a 15-year sentence. The three spy chiefs each got three years in prison last month.

“The defendant, as the president, was in a position that required strict discretion over the use of national funds,” the court said on Friday. “She abused her authority and wasted state funds without even bothering to check the legality of the act after receiving reports from Blue House aides.”

The bulk of the money was spent largely for private purposes, according to prosecutors, including maintenance of Park’s private residence in southern Seoul as well as medical and cosmetic treatments. Around 12.5 million won was spent on bills incurred with secret phones she used to contact Choi.

The court, however, acquitted Park of the bribery charges, mirroring its earlier decision in the trial of the former spy chiefs. The court acknowledged that it was customary for state institutions like the National Intelligence Service to draw from its discretionary coffers to provide funds to the Blue House. There was little evidence, though, that the spy agency had been given favors in return, the court ruled.

Park received an additional two years in prison for personally interfering with candidate nominations in her party in the run-up to the 2016 parliamentary elections. The Blue House is accused of intervening on behalf of the party’s pro-Park faction and ordering loyalists to disqualify dissenting lawmakers from party nomination.

“As the country’s chief policymaker, the president has the primary responsibility of ensuring that elections are conducted in a fair and transparent manner,” said Judge Seong Chang-ho, who presided over Friday’s sentencing. “The defendant has infringed upon democracy and undermined the autonomy of a national party. Her crime is not light.”

Park did not attend Friday’s hearing in protest of the judiciary’s supposed political bias against her.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]