By Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean court is set to deliver its verdict on former President Park Geun-hye on Friday with prosecutors seeking a 30-year jail term over a scandal that exposed webs of corruption between political leaders and the country’s conglomerates.
Park became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office last year when the Constitutional Court ordered her out over a scandal that landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.
Park’s ouster led to a presidential election won by the liberal Moon Jae-in, whose conciliatory stand on North Korea has underpinned a significant warming of ties between the rival neighbors.
Park, 66, who has been in jail since March 31 last year, is not expected to be in court when it delivers its verdict and, if she is found guilty as expected, hands down a sentence.
Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence and a 118.5 billion won ($112 million) fine for Park, after indicting her on charges that included bribery, abuse of power and coercion.
Park denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
A jail sentence will be a bitter blow for the daughter of a former military dictator, who returned to the presidential mansion in 2012 as the country’s first woman leader, more than three decades after she left it following the assassination of her father.
Park was accused of abusing power in collaboration with an old friend and of pressing companies to pay her tens of millions of dollars in bribes.
The friend, Choi Soon-sil, was convicted in a separate trial of receiving bribes from conglomerates including Samsung, the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and semiconductors, and the Lotte Group.
She was jailed for 20 years in February. The chairman of the Lotte Group, the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, Shin Dong-bin, was jailed for two years and six months.
Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee was jailed for a similar term on charges of bribery and embezzlement but in a surprise decision in February, an appeals court freed him after a year in detention.
Park apologized at her trial for seeking help from Choi, who had no policy or political experience, but that was as close as Park came to admitting any guilt.
SUPPORTERS EXPECTED TO GATHER
Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with Choi to receive 7 billion won from Lotte Group for favors, while pressuring big businesses to bankroll non-profit foundations run by Choi’s family and confidants.
Park was also charged with taking bribes totaling 29.8 billion won from Samsung.
Park has legions of loyal supporters, most of them older conservatives who remember her father’s authoritarian 18-year rule, beginning in 1961, when their country began its remarkable surge toward becoming an economic power.
Many supporters are expected to gather outside the court.
Park’s impeachment last year followed months of protests against her by younger, liberal voters who will be hoping the court ruling will represent a major step toward ending the old, self-serving collusion between political leaders and the chaebol conglomerates.
Park is the latest former leader of South Korea to run afoul of the law.
Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, is also being investigated for corruption.
Chun Doo-hwan, a former military dictator, was found guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption in 1996. He was sentenced to death but released after two years under a presidential pardon.
Chun’s successor, Roh Tae-woo, was also convicted of treason, mutiny and corruption in 1996 and jailed for more than 22 years but served just over two years before being released.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)