The South Korean government has pardoned former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence after being convicted of corruption, the justice ministry said on Friday.
The pardon comes at a time when the country is heading to elections on March 6, 2022. Park Kyung-mi, a spokesperson for South Korea’s presidential office said President Moon Jae-in considered former President Park’s worsening health condition when deciding to grant a special pardon.
Moon’s liberal government said the pardon is also meant to overcome past divisions and promote national unity in the face of difficulties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We should move into a new era by getting over the pains of the past. It’s time to boldly pull together all our strengths for the future rather than fighting against each other while being preoccupied with the past,” Moon said in remarks released by his office.
“In the case of former President Park, we considered the fact that her health condition has deteriorated a lot after serving nearly five years in prison,” he said.
According to reports, she has been hospitalized three times with chronic shoulder and back pain and has undergone surgery once.
Park, 69, the first female president of the country, was thrown out of office when the Constitutional Court upheld a parliament vote in 2017 to impeach her over corruption and abuse of power, after a scandal that exposed webs of double-dealing that also landed heads of two conglomerates in jail.
She was serving 22 years in prison, and is among 3,094 people who will be freed on December 31, the Justice Ministry said.
In her comments released by lawyer Yoo Young-ha, Park thanked Moon for pardoning her and apologized “to the people for causing so much concern.”
“I will concentrate on getting treated and try to thank the people myself in the earliest time possible,” Park said, as relayed by her lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha.
Park, a daughter of the slain dictator, Park Chung-hee, clinched victory as South Korea’s first female president in late 2012 by beating Moon.
After her conviction, she was succeeded by Moon, who easily won a special presidential by-election amid disarray and fierce internal feuding over Park’s ouster.