South Korea pardons jailed former president Park Geun-hye

File: South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye arrives at a court in Seoul on 25 August 2017 (AFP via Getty Images)
File: South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye arrives at a court in Seoul on 25 August 2017 (AFP via Getty Images)

South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has pardoned his predecessor Park Guen-hye who was serving a lengthy prison sentence after being impeached and convicted of corruption.

The 69-year-old was serving a 22-year prison term and was convicted for abuse of power and coercion in 2018 after being impeached by lawmakers in 2016, making her the country’s first democratically-elected leader to be forced out of office.

While Park’s lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha welcomed the government’s decision, he also said that his client offered a public apology for causing concern to the public.

Mr Moon’s office said the decision was made with the intention of “overcome unfortunate past history, promote people’s unity and join hands for the future.”

“We should move into a new era by getting over the pains of the past. It’s time to boldly pull together all our strengths for the future rather than fighting against each other while being preoccupied with the past,” Mr Moon said in remarks released by his office.

“In the case of former President Park, we considered the fact that her health condition has deteriorated a lot after serving nearly five years in prison,” he said.

According to opposition lawmakers, Park experienced several health problems in prison, including a shoulder surgery. She is also suffering from lumbar disc, a shoulder injury and dental problems along with mental stress, reported the Associated Press.

The decision to grant the pardon also comes ahead of the 2022 presidential election where Mr Moon’s ruling Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung and People Power’s Yoon Suk-yeol are running neck and neck.

The impact of the decision on the presidential election, however, is unclear at the moment.

Senior People Power party member Kim Jae-won commented on the decision to grant the pardon in a Facebook post: “Even if the presidential Blue House may have impure intentions to influence the results of the presidential election with the pardon of ex-president Park Geun-hye, it’s something that we opposition forces should address.”

Public sentiment around granting the pardon to Park has also changed in the past year.

According to a poll by Gallup Korea earlier this year, around 60 per cent of South Koreans opposed pardoning Park but by November, these numbers had dropped to 48 per cent.

Park’s predecessor, conservative-leaning Lee Myung-bak, is also serving a prison sentence on corruption charges, but has not been pardoned.

Park is the daughter of slain dictator Park Chung-hee. She was once the favourite of conservatives in South Korea and is among 3,094 people who are being pardoned by the president on 31 December, according to the country’s justice ministry.

In January this year, South Korea’s Supreme Court had upheld her 20-year prison term that she was serving alongside a separate conviction for meddling in her party’s nominations ahead of parliamentary elections in 2016, making the combined prison term to be of 22 years.

Additional reporting from the wires