South Korean court confirms 20-year prison term for ex-president Park

South Korean court confirms 20-year prison term for ex-president Park
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye sits for her trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on May 23, 2017 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool, File)
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Updated 14 January 2021

South Korean court confirms 20-year prison term for ex-president Park

South Korean court confirms 20-year prison term for ex-president Park
  • Park was convicted of corruption, extortion and bribery
  • She is the daughter of slain military dictator Park Chung-hee

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a 20-year prison term for former President Park Geun-hye over bribery and other crimes as it wrapped up a historic corruption case that marked a striking fall from grace for the country’s first female leader and conservative icon.
The ruling means Park, who was ousted from office and arrested in 2017, potentially serves a combined 22 years behind bars, following a separate conviction for illegally meddling in her party’s candidate nominations ahead of parliamentary elections in 2016.
But the finalizing of her prison term also makes her eligible for a special presidential pardon, a looming possibility as the country’s deeply-split electorate approaches the presidential election in March next year.
President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who won the presidential by-election following Park’s removal, has yet to directly address the possibility of freeing his predecessor.
But at least one prominent member of Moon’s Democratic Party, chairman Lee Nak-yon, has raised the idea of pardoning Park and another imprisoned former president, Lee Myung-bak, who’s serving a 17-year term over his own corruption charges, as a gesture for “national unity.”
Park, 68, has described herself a victim of political revenge. She has refused to attend her trials since October 2017 and didn’t attend Thursday’s ruling.
The office of Moon, who has recently seen his approval rating sink to new lows over economic problems, political scandals and rising coronavirus infections, didn’t have an immediate response to the ruling.
Park, the daughter of slain military dictator Park Chung-hee, was convicted of colluding with her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, while she was in office from 2013 to 2016.
She was also indicted on charges of accepting illegally monthly funds from her spy chiefs that were diverted out of the agency’s budget.
Following weekslong protests by millions, Park was impeached by lawmakers in December 2016 and officially removed from office in March 2017 after the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment.
Park originally faced a prison term of more than 30 years before the Supreme Court sent her cases back to a lower court in 2019.
The Seoul High Court in 2018 had sentenced her to 25 years in prison after reviewing her of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other convictions together.
But the Supreme Court in October 2019 ordered the Seoul High Court to deal with Park’s bribery charge separately from other charges, based on a law requiring so for cases involving a president or other elected officials, even when the alleged crimes are committed together.
The High Court had handed Park a five-year term over the spy fund charges in July 2019, but the Supreme Court also ordered a retrial on the case in November.
Prosecutors appealed after the Seoul High Court handed Park a 20-year term in July last year over the charges.


New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
Updated 16 January 2021

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream

New migrant caravan leaves Honduras in pursuit of American dream
  • The 3,000 or so migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America
  • Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the US to stop north-bound migratory flows

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras: Some 3,000 people left Honduras on foot Friday in the latest migrant caravan hoping to find a welcome, and a better life, in the US under President-elect Joe Biden.
Seeking to escape poverty, unemployment, gang and drug violence and the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes, the migrants plan to walk thousands of kilometers through Central America.
But they will have to overcome a rash of travel restrictions in Guatemala and Mexico long before they even make it to the American border.
The quest is likely to end in heartbreak for many, with American authorities already having warned off the group that includes people of all ages and some entire families.
“I want to work for my house and a car, to work and live a dignified life with my family,” said Melvin Fernandez, a taxi driver from the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba in Honduras, who set off on the long journey with his wife and three children, aged 10, 15 and 22.
Most of the group set off shortly after 4 a.m. (1000 GMT) from the transport terminal of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city, headed for Agua Caliente on the Guatemalan border some 260 km (162 miles) away.
The migrants walked along side roads wearing backpacks, some holding the Honduras flag, many with small children in their arms, and most with facemasks to protect against the coronavirus.
The migrants say they hope to catch lifts from passing motorists or truckers or, failing that, walk the entire way.
To enter Guatemala, the first country on their route, however, the migrants will have to show travel documents and a negative coronavirus test — requirements that not all of them meet.
“We are leaving with a broken heart, because in my case, I leave my family, my husband and my three children behind,” 36-year-old Jessenia Ramirez told AFP.
“We are going in search of a better future, a job so we can send a few cents back home. We are trusting in God to open our path, Biden is supposed to give work opportunities to those who are there (on American soil).”
The travelers are hopeful that Biden, who takes over the US presidency on Wednesday, will be more flexible than his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden has promised “a fair and humane immigration system” and pledged aid to tackle the root causes of poverty and violence that drive Central Americans to the United States.
But Mark Morgan, acting Commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, warned the group last week not to “waste your time and money.”
The US commitment to the “rule of law and public health” is not affected by the change in administration, he said in a statement.
More than a dozen caravans, some with thousands of migrants, have set off from Honduras since October 2018.
But all have run up against thousands of US border guards and soldiers under Trump, who has characterized immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” and other criminal activity to the United States.
Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras have an agreement with the United States to stop north-bound migratory flows from the south of the continent.
Honduras has mobilized 7,000 police officers to supervise the latest caravan on its journey to the Guatemalan border.
Guatemala declared seven departments in a state of “alert,” giving security forces the authority to “forcibly dissolve” any type of public groupings.
On Friday, officials said they had already returned about 100 Hondurans who began the trip from San Pedro Sula on Thursday and entered Guatemala illegally, without Covid tests. Another 600-odd migrants who arrived at the border were prevented from entering, Guatemalan police reported.
Hundreds of police and soldiers manned three border crossings to stop the caravan. Many wore gas masks and carried shields and truncheons.
On the Honduran side, in the town of El Florido, there were signs of desperation.
“We will not move until they let us cross. We will stage a hunger strike,” said Dania Hinestrosa, 23, waiting with her young daughter.
“We have no work or food. That is why I am traveling to the United States,” she said.
Mexican authorities said late Thursday that 500 immigration officers were being deployed to the Guatemalan border in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.
But the migrants are keeping the end goal in sight.
Among them, 28-year-old Eduardo Lanza said he dreamed of living in a country where people of different sexual orientations can live with dignity, “respect... and a job opportunity.”
Norma Pineda, 51, said last year’s hurricanes left her “on the street.”
“We are leaving because here is no work, no state support, we need food, clothes...” she told AFP.