South Korean President Moon Jae-in has unexpectedly pardoned former President Park Geun-hye. He is serving a prison sentence for corruption and abuse of power.
Park’s prison was a political hot potato that divided South Korea. The opposition party People’s Power has called for Park’s release for some time, citing her deteriorating health. Before Covid, there were weekly protests in the capital, Seoul, from the conservative camp calling for her release.
This does not change the fact that the pardon came as a surprise. Moon had previously promised not to pardon those convicted of corruption. Park, 69, was only convicted of this in 2018, a year after she was convicted It was cordoned off after widespread street protests. In addition, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled at the beginning of this year that the politician must remain in prison until 2039.
At the beginning of this year, polls showed 60% were against early release from Park. By November, that number had fallen to 48 percent.
The fact that Park’s pardon now may have something to do with the upcoming elections to be held in South Korea in March 2022. In recent opinion polls, the contest between the Democratic Party of Moon and power has been for the people.
The South Korean government says the pardon is being granted “from the perspective of national unity” and “to overcome the unfortunate past”. Moon’s spokeswoman said Moon hopes it will provide an opportunity “to overcome differences and open a new era of integration and unity.”
Park was accused of fraud and leaking confidential government information to Choi Soon-sil’s confidant, who was not holding an official position. The two would also have received kickbacks from big companies such as Samsung and retail chain Lotte. Samsung heir Lee Jae Young also spent time in prison for his role in the bribery scandal, dubbed Choi Geet.
Park will be released on December 31. It is not yet clear if she will return to politics. Her predecessor Lee Myung-bak is also in prison on corruption charges but has not been pardoned.
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