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Posted : 2018-02-13 22:18
Updated : 2018-02-14 14:07

Choi Soon-sil gets 20-year jail term for corruption; Lotte chairman 2.5 years for bribery

By Lee Kyung-min

Choi Soon-sil, the central figure in an influence-peddling scandal that removed former President Park Geun-hye from office, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Tuesday, and ordered to pay an 18 billion won ($16 million) fine. In addition, she was told to hand over 7.29 billion won she also received in illicit paybacks.

Former presidential secretary An Chong-bum was given a six-year term and fined 100 million won. He was also ordered to pay 42 million won that he illicitly received and two bags confiscated by the court deemed as bribes.

Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined the 7 billion won he gave as bribes. Shin and An were immediately put behind bars.

Choi and An were indicted for conspiring with Park to have 50 business groups "donate" 77.4 billion won to two foundations ― Mir and K-Sports ― set up and controlled by Choi. The latter faced additional charges for demanding Samsung Group give her 43.3 billion won, part of which she used to support her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, a former equestrian competitor.

Shin was indicted for giving 7 billion won to the K-Sports Foundation as a bribe in return for securing the group's license to operate a duty-free shop in Seoul.

Seoul Central District Court Judge Kim Se-yun said the three deserved harsh punishment.

"Choi who had a personal relationship with Park conspired with her in abusing the presidential office to seek personal benefit, thereby undermining the county's rule of law and its constitutional values," Kim said in the court's ruling.

"Choi extorted business groups and the Federation of Korean industries (FKI) over which she exerted undue influence by deeply meddling in personnel affairs as well as organization management. She also tried to help firms that were close to her bypass due contract bid proceedings and win contracts. She received 14 billion won in bribes and asked SK Group to pay her 8.9 billion won. Choi was the primary recipient and core beneficiary of 7.2 billion won Samsung gave her daughter," Kim said.

"Due to her actions, the country was thrown into confusion and its constitutional values were severely undermined, he added. A sitting president was impeached, a decision upheld by the Constitutional Court, and the country lost faith in the management of state affairs, and this led to great public disappointment," he added.

"The key culprit in the influence-peddling scandal is Park who was derelict in her duty and abused the power vested in her by the Constitution and the people, and allowed a private individual Choi to benefit from this."

Choi, the court added, kept making excuses and failed to show any remorse and blamed others, claiming the scandal was orchestrated by those who were critical of Park. She failed to appear for National Assembly hearings and attempted to destroy evidence."

But the court recognized mitigating circumstances as she had no prior criminal record since 1994 when she paid a fine and some of her attempts to seek more personal benefit failed to materialize.

An, the court said, also deserved harsh punishment. "An was the key advisor who was in charge of state affairs with great authority and discretion over these. Due to his actions, many firms were forced to give money against their will out of fear that their business would suffer the consequences," Kim noted.

"He betrayed the public trust and failed to uphold high ethical standards required of a top government official. He also allowed the influence-peddling scandal to escalate. An also attempted to destroy evidence and failed to appear at a National Assembly hearing."

He failed to acknowledge his role claiming that he only had to follow orders from Park, Kim added.

"Shin resorted to bribery, as a much easier way to ink key deals to advance the company's business interest instead of taking time-consuming and other demanding efforts to succeed, Kim said.

"The listing of Hotel Lotte was crucial for him to tighten his grip on the firm. He offered 7 billion won in bribes in a desperate attempt to ink a deal that he deemed necessary to expand his business, which not all other business groups opted for. His actions greatly interfered with the principle of fair competition and frustrated the morale of other firms. Harsh punishment is inevitable especially since the conspiracy was committed at the highest levels, between the president and a company head."

Earlier, special prosecutor Park Young-soo had demanded 25 years for Choi her and a fine of 118.5 billion won, and demanded that she forfeit the 7.79 billion won she also received illicitly.

Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence for An, a fine of 100 million won, and demanded that he forfeit 40 million won as well as two designer bags that he received from Kim Young-jae, a plastic surgeon whose illegal medical treatment of Choi and Park allegedly violated multiple medical laws. Kim's wife Park Chae-yoon was sentenced to one year behind bars for giving An the two luxury bags and a bottle expensive whisky among other presents, in exchange for receiving 1.5 billion won in government subsidies in 2015.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was released from prison last week after an appellate court overturned a lower court ruling that sentenced him to five years in prison for offering 43.3 billion won to Park and Choi. This was allwgedly in return for political favors to help him consolidate control of the Samsung Group amid the deteriorating health of his bedridden father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee. Seoul High Court Judge Cheong Hyung-sik said Park and Choi conspired to commit extortion, suggesting Lee only passively complied with the former president's demands. The Supreme Court will review the case.

However, other than Lee, all figures indicted for their involvement in the corruption scandal are behind bars. All of them, a district court ruled, conspired with Park to advance their interest.

Choi's niece Jang Si-ho, former Vice Culture Minister Kim Jong, visual art director Cha Eun-taek, former Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo, former CEO of the Korea Creative Content Agency Song Sung-gak are all serving prison terms.

Choi's lawyer, Lee Kyung-jae, has persistently denied all charges against her, saying investigators made everything up based on pure conjecture lacking any substantial evidence.

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