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FILE PHOTO: South Korean ousted leader Park Geun-hye arrives at a court in Seoul, South Korea, August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo


By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean appeals court sentenced former President Park Geun-hye to 25 years in jail on Friday in a case arising from a far-reaching corruption scandal that toppled her from power in 2017.

Park became South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office when the Constitutional Court removed her over a scandal that landed the heads of two conglomerates in jail.

The Seoul High Court found that Park colluded with her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to receive tens of billions of won from major conglomerates to help Choi's family and fund non-profit foundations owned by her, according to the court documents.

"Such unethical dealings between political power and financial power harms the essence of democracy and distorts order in the market economy, giving the people a grave sense of loss and deep distrust of our society," presiding judge Kim Mun-suk said in the ruling.

"A strict penalty is unavoidable," Kim said.

The court also fined Park, the daughter of a former military dictator, 20 billion won ($17.86 million) after finding her guilty of charges including abuse of power, bribery and coercion.

A lower court had jailed Park for 24 years in April. Prosecutors appealed against that decision, seeking a tougher sentence. Park had given up on appeals.

Another South Korean court sentenced Park in July to eight more years in prison in a separate case arising from the same scandal, finding her guilty on charges of causing the loss of government funds and interfering in a 2016 parliamentary election.

Park has been defended by state attorneys after her former defence team quit en masse last year in protest against a Seoul court's handling of her case, including the extension of her detention.

Park, 66, has been in jail since March 31, 2017, but has denied wrongdoing and was not present in court. She returned to South Korea's presidential palace in 2012 as the country's first woman leader more than three decades after she left it following the assassination of her father.

Her ouster last year led to a presidential election won by the liberal Moon Jae-in, whose conciliatory stance on North Korea has led to a significant warming of ties with the North.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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