Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has been serving a 22-year prison term for corruption charges, was granted a special pardon by the government on Friday and is set to be released on Dec. 31.
“We must overcome the pain of the past and move forward into the new era,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement, adding that “national unity and humble inclusiveness are more urgent than anything else.”
Moon noted that the amnesty for Park, 69, was also made in light of her health, which has “deteriorated significantly” since she was imprisoned in March 2017.
“I hope this would provide a chance to go beyond differences in thoughts and pros and cons, and open a new era of integration and unity,” he remarked, imploring those who oppose the amnesty to understand the government’s purpose.
Park was the first female president of South Korea and the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee. Four years ago, she was impeached and arrested due to a political scandal involving “trustees in politics.”
In the final verdict in early 2021, the court sentenced Park to 20 years in prison for political intervention and bribery, plus another two years for intervening in party referrals, totaling a 22-year sentence. At the same time, she received more than 20 billion won (about $17.7 million) in fines and recovery.
Due to failure to pay fines within a specified date, Park’s private house in Seoul was confiscated in March of this year and was auctioned off in August. Park is the fourth former president of South Korea to be imprisoned; the three before her were Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan, and Lee Myung-bak.
Two former presidents Roh Tae-woo and Quan Doo-hwan were pardoned by the then-president while serving their sentences, establishing a precedent. Lee Myung-bak is still serving his sentence of 17 years in prison.
Moon has previously rejected the move to pardon both Park and Lee, saying that “judicial justice” and “national consensus” must be considered before deciding a pardon. But many supporters and politicians of the conservative main opposition People Power party had called for Park’s pardon ahead of next year’s election.
At the beginning of this year, Park Geun-Hye was given a final verdict and deemed eligible for pardon. According to a survey by Realmeter, a polling agency in South Korea, 47.7 percent of respondents supported the pardon while 48 percent opposed it. Since then, there were calls to Moon Jae-in for the pardoning of Park Geun-Hye to promote national unity.
Lisa Bian and Reuters contributed to this report.