SEOUL - Han Myeong-sook, former prime minister and ex-leader of the main opposition party, faces another long legal battle over bribery accusations which have dealt blow to her political career and reputation as an pro-democracy activist against the military-backed governments in the 1970s and 80s.
A Seoul appellate court on Monday sentenced Han to two years in prison for bribery, overturning a lower court's ruling that cleared her of the charge. Han was found guilty of receiving 880 million won in political funds from a local businessman between 2006 and 2007 when she served as prime minister under the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, the Seoul High Court said. The court ordered Han to forfeit the illegal funds, but didn't put her under custody as she is an incumbent member of the National Assembly.
Calling it an "unacceptable and politically motivated ruling," Han said she will fight to prove her innocence at the upper court.
"I have never accepted the money. I will appeal to the Supreme Court to reveal the truth and stand firm to fight," Han said right after the court's ruling.
Han was embroiled in a series of bribery scandals that led her to face a number of painstaking trials. She was indicted for another bribery charge which the prosecution accused her of taking 50 million won from former Korea Express chief executive Kwak Young-wook. The Supreme Court found Han not guilty in the case.
Han's trials also dealt a blow to her party which strived to take a majority in the parliament and to win the presidential election in 2012.
Han took charge of the then Democratic United Party in early 2012, vowing to lead the party to a presidential victory. Under the leadership of Han, however, the party suffered a defeat in the general election in April that year by the ruling Saenuri Party, which was then led by Park Geun-hye. Han resigned right after the election, holding herself responsible for the poor showing. In stark contrast, her former rival Park was elected president later in the year.
Although her leadership failed, Han remains one of the "spiritual" leaders within in the opposition party. Her unfinished legal battles, in this respect, are likely to continue in line with the opposition party's ongoing struggle with the conservative bloc as well as the Park government. The opposition has been protesting against the National Intelligence Service's alleged attempt to meddle in last year's presidential election, and the purported pressure from Cheong Wa Dae on the prosecutor chief's abrupt resignation.