South Korea's Supreme Court on Thursday overturned part of an appeals court ruling that had convicted the country's first female president for corruption crimes.
The justices sent the case back to the appellate Seoul High Court – which had confirmed a 25-year prison sentence for ex-president Park Geun-hye (in office between 2013-16) on a litany of corruption charges – citing procedural issues.
The lower court was ordered to handle Park’s bribery charges separate from her other charges, and could result in a heavier jail term in a new trial.
The top court also ordered a review of the related case of Samsung Group's de facto chief, Lee Jae-yong, who had received a suspended sentence of two-and-a-half years in jail for bribery.
Lee now faces additional charges, as the Supreme Court ruled that he paid more in bribes than had been initially estimated.
The Supreme Court's ruling could be a serious blow to Samsung, the country's top conglomerate, which is already undergoing business difficulties.
Park was impeached in Dec. 2016 after being accused of influence peddling involving her close personal aide, Choi Soon-sil, and arrested on Mar. 31, 2017.
On Apr. 6, 2018, she was declared guilty of 16 of the 18 charges she faced over her role in the so-called "Rasputin" scandal (in reference to the moniker Choi was given by local media), including corruption, bribery and abuse of power, and sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment.
The Seoul High Court increased that sentence by an additional year a few months later during the appeal.
The court found that Park and Choi extorted millions of dollars from major South Korean companies – including electronics giant Samsung – while promising favorable treatment.
Choi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Feb. 2018 and ordered to pay a multi-million-dollar fine.
Park is the daughter of the late military dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled over the country between 1961 (when he grabbed power after leading a coup d'etat) and his assassination in 1979.
She is also the third former South Korean head of state to have been jailed, after Gen. Chun Doo-hwan (1979-88) and Gen. Roh Tae-woo (1988-93). EFE-EPA