Thursday, 5th October 2023

South Korea’s disgraced ex-president Park leaves hospital after prison release

South Korea's ex-president Park Geun-hye left the hospital on Thursday, three months after she was released from prison following a pardon for her role in one of the country's biggest corruption cases.

South Korea’s ex-president Park Geun-hye (C), who was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for corruption and was pardoned in December, speaks to her supporters as she arrives at her new residence in Daegu, on March 24, 2022. (Photo by Dong-A Ilbo / AFP) / South Korea OUT

South Korea’s ex-president Park Geun-hye left the hospital on Thursday, three months after she was released from prison following a pardon for her role in one of the country’s biggest corruption cases.

Since the December pardon, 70-year-old Park has been an inpatient at the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, being treated for shoulder pain and dental problems as well as stress, according to local media.

She had been serving a 20-year prison sentence for abuse of power and bribery, and another two years for election law violations.

Her release comes less than two months ahead of the inauguration of the country’s new conservative president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who as former prosecutor-general played a key role in convicting her.

“I offer my greetings to our people after five years,” a smiling Park said as she left the hospital, wearing a dark navy coat and carrying a purse.

“My health has improved a lot thanks to your concerns.”

Park is the daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1961 to 1979.

She became South Korea’s first woman president in 2013, casting herself in the role of the daughter of the nation, incorruptible and beholden to none.

Less than four years later, she was impeached and ousted.

The corruption scandal exposed shady links between big businesses and politics in South Korea, with Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil accused of taking bribes from conglomerates, including Samsung Electronics, in exchange for preferential treatment.

The case sparked huge street protests, and the public backlash against Park and her conservative party helped propel the left-leaning Moon Jae-in into power.

Moon pardoned Park in December, citing her poor health and a need to promote “national unity” as factors in his decision.

– Pays her respects –
Later Thursday, Park stopped by a cemetery to pay respect at the grave of her father, before arriving at her newly built home in Daegu, a southern city that has long been a strong support base for Park and her party.

“Looking back, the past 5 years have been such a difficult time for me,” she said as she arrived at her Daegu home.

“I appreciate so many people warmly welcoming me despite the disappointments I’ve caused.”

Some 5,000 people gathered in front of the gate, according to the police, mostly her supporters who cheered for her.

But an unidentified man threw a glass bottle as she gave a speech, causing a brief break. No one was hurt.

South Korea’s politics is famously adversarial, with leaders serving just a single term of five years.

Former presidents have frequently ended up in prison when their time in power is up and their rivals are installed.

In the recent election, despite his own role in ousting Park, Yoon fired up support among disgruntled conservative voters by offering a chance at “revenge” against Moon.

He even went so far as to threaten to investigate Moon for unspecified “irregularities”.

Yoon said during the election campaign that he was “very sorry” about what had happened to Park.

Moon’s office said on Thursday that the president had sent Park an orchid and wished her good health.

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