By John Ikani
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has pardoned former President Park Geun-hye, who was serving a 22-year prison term for a vast corruption scandal.
Park, became South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office when the Constitutional Court upheld a Parliament vote in 2017 to impeach her over a scandal that also landed the heads of two conglomerates, including Samsung Electronics, in jail.
The 69-year-old was convicted of abuse of power and coercion in 2018 just a few months after her impeachment.
She was serving a 20-year prison sentence for bribery and abuse of power, with another two years after that for election law violations.
Park has pleaded her innocence to the charges, saying she never accepted the money. She claimed that the charges were fabricated as part of political revenge by a conservative government against the Roh administration.
The Justice Ministry said on Friday that Park’s pardon is aimed at promoting national unity in the face of difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
She was on a list of people receiving special amnesty and was pardoned from “a perspective of national unity”, Justice Minister Park Beom-kye later explained to reporters following the ministry’s announcement.
The Justice Minister was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying the former president’s pardon was discussed during a two-day meeting of the ministry’s amnesty review committee earlier this week.
He said the health factor “was a very important criterion” in the amnesty decision.
Park has been hospitalised three times this year due to chronic shoulder and lower back pain.
It is worthwhile to note that the decision came as many supporters and politicians of the conservative main opposition People Power party have been calling for Park’s pardon ahead of the March presidential election.
MPs belonging to Moon’s ruling Democratic party had floated the idea of pardoning Park and another ex-president, Lee Myung-bak, in the name of national unity.
Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who is also imprisoned, was not pardoned. He is serving a 17-year prison sentence over embezzlement and bribery convictions.