International desk, Apr 06: South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion.The verdict was broadcast live and represents the culmination of a scandal which rocked the country, fuelling rage against political and business elites.
Park, who was also fined 18bn won (£12m, $17m), faced a string of corruption charges.
The former leader was not in court on Friday for the verdict.
She has boycotted her trial hearings and has previously accused the courts of being biased against her. She has also denied all wrongdoing and has said she will appeal against her sentence.
Judge Kim Se-yoon said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” after causing “massive chaos” in the country.
“We cannot help but sternly hold her accountable,” the judge said.
South Korea’s presidential residence, the Blue House, issued a statement after the verdict calling it a “heartbreaking event for the nation”.
“A history that is not remembered is bound to be repeated,” it read.
The move by the authorities to allow Friday’s verdict to be broadcast live was unprecedented, but they cited extraordinary public interest in the case.
Park was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most of which related to bribery and coercion.
The court ruled that she had colluded with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure conglomerates such as electronics giant Samsung and retail chain Lotte to give millions of dollars to foundations run by Choi.
She was also convicted of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter.
In addition, Park was found guilty of leaking confidential presidential documents to Choi.
A friendship lies at the heart of the undoing of South Korea’s first female president.
Park and Choi were childhood friends and Choi swiftly became the leader’s most trusted confidante.
But their relationship latterly came under intense public scrutiny and the charge is that Choi had undue influence over a nation’s affairs through her connection with Park.
Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year.
After a prolonged series of hearings and months of street protests calling for her resignation, Park was finally removed from office in March 2017, making her the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.
She was arrested shortly afterwards, and has been in detention ever since.
Last month former leader Lee Myung-bak was charged with corruption over allegations he took bribes while in office.
Two others, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s.
In 2009, former president Roh Moo-hyun killed himself while he was under investigation for corruption.
What does the verdict mean for the country?
Park’s sentencing has drawn a line under what has been one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock South Korea in recent years.
It has also fuelled the rise of the liberal Moon Jae-in, Park’s previous political opponent who eventually replaced her as president after campaigning on a platform of a clean government.
But South Koreans are divided on the verdict. Several hundred Park supporters gathered outside the court waving national flags during the ruling.
Some sat in tears after the conviction, with others started a protest march.
“The rule of law in this country is dead today,” said one pro-Park demonstrator.