Former South Korean president sentenced to prison for 24 years

Former Pres. Park Geun-hye Won't Appear in Trial to be Broadcast Live

Park hit a bad patch in her political stint when she was impeached by lawmakers in December 2016 and was subsequently removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling in March 2017.

"Park abused her power given by the people of the Republic of Korea, only to breach the freedom that corporates can enjoy in their management", said presiding Judge Kim Se-yoon at Seoul Central District Court.

She was accused of colluding to pressure companies into donating 7.4 billion won ($72.3 million) to foundations controlled by her close associate Choi Soon-sil, and taking bribes from businesses in return for government support.

Park maintains that she's a victim of "political revenge" and has been refusing to attend court sessions since October.

The judge said Park had shown "no sign of repentance" but had instead tried to shift the blame to Choi and her secretaries.

"We can not help but sternly hold her accountable".

"The 24-year sentence, which is more than double the usual sentence for a murder charge in our country, may appear heavy on the surface", said Lee Chang-hyun, a law professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Outside the court, hundreds of supporters of Park had gathered to watch the verdict on a large screen, waving Korean and United States flags and calling for her release.

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Park was removed from office early previous year following months of massive rallies that saw millions take to the nation's streets calling for her ouster. "However, a bleak and dry wind blew across all of us today", said spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.

Park is the daughter of South Korea's former dictator Park Chung-hee and was the nation's only female president. "She abused her power as the president and received 14 billion won worth of bribes from Samsung and Lotte, and requested 8.9 billion won from SK Group". She was also ordered to pay 18 billion won.

Choi is the daughter of a shadowy religious figure who had served as a mentor to Park for decades until his death in 1994. Choi is serving a 20-year prison term; Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was initially sentenced to five years in prison before his sentence was suspended on appeal; and Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin was given 2½ years in prison.

Park's supporters and opponents reflect divisions in a society still haunted by Cold War antagonism.

Most supporters are older conservatives who remember her father's authoritarian 18-year rule, beginning in 1961, when their country began its remarkable surge towards becoming an economic power.

According to records, Park is the third South Korean leader to be put on trial for corruption but the first democratically elected one. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

Two former presidents were convicted of bribery and treason in 1996, but were both pardoned a year later.

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