With a former Head of State sentenced to 24 years in jail for abuse of power and corruption, South Korea has been convulsed ahead of the scheduled summit with the North ~ in itself a historic event in the peninsula.
Not that Friday’s verdict will impinge on the present dispensation in Seoul; but the fact that Park Geun-hye has been sentenced has exposed the scandal of double-dealing between political leaders and conglomerates or crony capitalists if you will.
It shall not be easy for the government to burnish its image in the perspective of the comity of nations. Additionally, a huge fine has been imposed on Park on charges that also included bribery and corruption. In a rare move, the court in Seoul decided to broadcast her trial live, a move that the former President had objected to.
To summon the analogy of the fish rotting from the head, the charges showcase a dire manifestation of crime at the helm. There is little doubt that the former President of South Korea was very much in cahoots with her associates. Not the least because the court found that Park had colluded with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to solicit bribes from South Korean conglomerates including Samsung and the retail company Lotte in exchange for policy favours.
It was, therefore, a lethal cocktail of corporate crime and governance that Park had presided over… and literally so. If her counterpart across the Demilitarised Zone had unnerved the world with his volley and bluster, Pak had put in place a government that was rotten to the core.
This arguably is the subtext of the verdict that has been pronounced. Prosecutors have charged Park with 18 separate crimes and accused her of working with Choi in taking bribes and exerting pressure on companies to fund “non-profit entities” run by Choi’s family.
She was also accused of leaking classified information on the basis of imprimatur from the presidential palace. Choi, a pastor’s daughter, had no experience in government, but was described in a US diplomatic cable as having “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years”.
It is a measure of her influence over the President that had once provoked an opposition legislator to trash Park’s government as “a scary theocracy”. The scandal has exposed what has long been widely suspected in South Korea ~ an entangled web of government and the chaebol, sprawling business conglomerates that dominate the economy.
Park’s rise to the presidency in 2013 was seen as a personal redemption 30 years after her father, then the country’s dictator, was assassinated. But while personally damaging to South Korea’s first woman leader, the corruption scandal had dealt a major blow to conservatives in the next election.
For her detractors ~ whose number is legion ~ Park has been reduced to a figure of public fury and ridicule. There is turmoil on either side of the DMZ today.