Park Geun-hye, the disgraced former president of South Korea, will not appeal her 24-year prison sentence for bribery, corruption, and extortion. This announcement, made on April 16, ends what has been one of the biggest political scandals in South Korean history. A scandal which has shined a light on government and corporate corruption in the nation.
On October 24, 2016, an independent report by South Korean news programs revealed that Choi Soon-sil, a family friend and personal confidante of Park, had access to copies of presidential speeches before they were publicly announced, despite not having an official position within the South Korean government. Further investigations and parliamentary hearings revealed that Park, Choi, and members of Park’s staff extorted billions of won from Korean chaebols (large family-owned conglomerates, such as Samsung) to set up culture and sports-related foundations run by Choi. Choi also used her influence to ensure her daughter Chung Yoo-ra attended Ewha Womans University in Seoul. Choi was eventually sentenced to a total of 23 years for her involvement in this scandal.
When the extent of Park’s corruption was revealed, mass protests erupted in South Korea, which drew international attention to the scandal. Park was impeached by the Korean National Assembly in November 2016, and on March 10, 2017 the constitutional court upheld the impeachment and removed Park from office. An arrest warrant was issued for Park on March 30, 2017, and she was arrested that same day.
On April 6, 2018, Park was found guilty of 16 out of the 18 charges against her and was sentenced to 24 years in prison and additionally ordered to pay a fine of 18 billion won. The prosecutors of the case will be appealing the conviction as they insist that Park is guilty of the two charges dropped. The prosecutors aim to increase Park’s sentence to 30 years and increase the fine to 118.5 billion won.
The scandal, protests, and subsequent trials have put the deep collusive ties between the government and the nation’s huge conglomerates under the spotlight. The current president Moon Jae-in and the National Assembly have made efforts to root out corruption in the government, with mixed results so far. The nations many political parties disagree on how political and corporate reform should be implemented, and the complex business ownership laws that lead to the nation’s chaebol conglomerates are not easy to fix. However, this trail shows the continued march throughout the world of anti-corruption efforts, and how much people in nations across the globe are beginning to take corruption seriously.
Here at Smith Brandon International, we will be keeping a close eye on South Korea’s reformation efforts to make sure we’re prepared to help our clients navigate the changing legal landscape in South Korea and throughout the world.