Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Park leaves Seoul Hospital, where she has been staying for medical treatment since last month, after correctional officers issued a waiver letter.

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was released from prison on Friday for nearly five years after being convicted of corruption, sparking debate over whether she would play any role ahead of a March presidential election.

Park, 69, was the country’s first democratically elected leader ousted from office when the constitutional court upheld it. a parliamentary vote in 2017 to prosecute her about a scandal that also led to the jail time of the heads of two conglomerates, Samsung and Lotte.

South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a 20-year prison sentence handed down in January after Park was found guilty of conspiracy with a friend, who is also in prison, to receive tens of billions in winnings from the companies, mostly to her friend’s family and non-profit foundations.

President Moon Jae-in granted a special pardon to Park last week, referring to her deteriorating health and expressing hope to “overcome unhappy past history and promote national unity”.

Broadcasters have shown that Park is leaving Seoul Hospital, where she has been staying for medical treatment since last month, after correctional workers delivered a waiver letter at midnight.

She did not comment, but her lawyer said Park, the daughter of a former military ruler, offered an apology because it caused public concern and thanked Moon for a “difficult decision”.

Park’s release comes because her old party, the main opposition Conservative People Power Party, and Moon’s Democratic Party are in a fierce presidential race.

Her captivity divided the country, with right-wing, pro-Park groups holding weekly rallies to denounce Moon and his policies and to demand Park’s release, until COVID-19 distance rules stifled the rallies last year.

Hundreds of Park fans braved icy temperatures to stream to the hospital late Thursday where she stayed to celebrate her release, with more than 1,000 bouquets of flowers arriving.

About 200 people held a rally in downtown Seoul against her release, the Yonhap news agency reported.

It was not clear if Park would resume any political activity, but she said in a memo released on Thursday that her conviction was politically motivated and expressed her hope to “meet the people again one day”.

People Power’s presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, who is investigating the Park scandal as prosecutor general, said on Friday he had done his job as a civil servant and added he would like to visit Park when her health improves.

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