Disgraced ex-South Korean president Park freed after nearly 5 years in prison
SEOUL (Reuters) – Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was released from prison on Friday almost five years after being convicted of corruption, fueling debate over her role ahead of the March presidential election.
Park, 69, was the country’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office when the Constitutional Court upheld a parliament vote in 2017 to impeach her over a scandal that also led to the imprisonment of the heads of two conglomerates, Samsung and Lotte.
South Korea’s highest court in January upheld a 20-year prison sentence after Park was convicted of colluding with a friend, who is also in jail, to receive tens of billions of won from companies, mainly to fund his friend’s family and non-profit foundations.
President Moon Jae-in granted Park a special pardon last week, citing his deteriorating health and expressing hope “to overcome the unhappy history of the past and promote national unity.”
Broadcasters showed Park leaving a Seoul hospital, where she had been staying for medical treatment for last month, after prison officials handed over a letter of pardon at midnight.
She did not comment, but her attorney said Park, the daughter of a former military leader, apologized for raising public concern and thanking Moon for making a “difficult decision.”
Park’s release comes as his former party, the main conservative opposition People Power Party, and Moon’s Democratic Party are in a tight presidential race.
His imprisonment has divided the country, with right-wing pro-Park groups holding weekly rallies to denounce Moon and his policies and call for Park’s release, until COVID-19 distancing rules choke off gatherings. ‘last year.
Hundreds of Park’s supporters braved freezing temperatures to flock to the hospital where she was staying late Thursday to celebrate her release, with more than 1,000 bouquets of flowers arriving.
About 200 people protested in downtown Seoul against his release, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
It was not clear whether Park would resume any political activity, but she said in a brief released Thursday that her conviction was politically motivated and she expressed hope that she “will meet the people again someday.”
People Power presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, who investigated the Park scandal as attorney general, said on Friday he had done his job as an official, adding that he would like to visit Park when his health s ‘will improve.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel