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The wide-ranging corruption scandal exposed shady links between big business and politics in South Korea, prompting massive street protests against Park past year.

Disgraced former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison Friday, a year after she was driven from office over a scandal that exposed webs of corruption between political leaders and the country's conglomerates.

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

The Seoul Central District Court said Park colluded with Choi to abuse presidential power and coerce large business conglomerates, including Samsung and Lotte, to donate tens of millions of USA dollars to two nonprofit foundations controlled by Choi.

Park Geun Hye did not attend the trial.

Several hundred Park supporters gathered outside the court waving national flags during the ruling.

Among the key charges are that she colluded with her friend Choi to take tens of millions of dollars from businesses, including Samsung, in bribes and extortion.

Most of the money was meant to bankroll non-profit foundations run by Choi's family and confidants, and to fund the education of Choi's horse-riding daughter, the court said.

She was also fined 18 billion won (£12m).

Park and her lawyers were not present in the court to hear the verdict. Park once described Choi as someone who helped her when she had difficulties.

"We can not help but sternly hold her accountable", Kim said.

But their relationship latterly came under intense public scrutiny and the charge is that Choi had undue influence over a nation's affairs through her connection with Park.

During her father's 18-year rule, Park Geun-hye served as first lady after her mother was killed in an assassination attempt targeting her father in 1974.

"The truth will be revealed one day".

Park becomes the third former South Korean leader to be convicted on criminal charges after leaving office, joining Chun Doo-whan and Roh Tae-woo, who were both found guilty of treason and corruption in the 1990s.

Her ouster from office past year led to a presidential election won by the liberal Moon Jae-in, whose conciliatory stand on North Korea has underpinned a significant warming of ties between the rival neighbors.

Moon's office said Park's fate was "heartbreaking" not only for herself but for the country, and added that history that was not remembered history would be repeated.

"The rule of law in this country is dead today", said one pro-Park demonstrator.

Choi received a 20-year prison term in February for charges similar to Park's.

But Moon took office pledging to end the practice of pardoning public and corporate officials convicted of corruption. It was a commutation from a five-year imprisonment in the first trial.

Shin, chairman of the powerful Lotte Group, South Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in February for offering bribes to Choi's foundations to try to get a government license to open a duty-free shop and other favours.

Prosecutors had charged Park with 18 counts, seeking a 30-year jail sentence with a fine of 118.5 billion won (111.4 million USA dollars).

Park's supporters and opponents reflect divisions in a society still haunted by Cold War antagonism.

The former leader was not in court on Friday for the verdict.

"They have to boost transparency and sever the ties of collusion with government".