Top Seoul educator gets 1-year jail term
Seoul’s top educator Kwak No-hyun was given a one-year jail term at an appeals court hearing on charges of bribing a rival candidate in the election for top educator post.
However, the progressive-minded educator will retain his superintendent post at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education until the Supreme Court makes a final decision.
The Seoul High Court Tuesday sentenced Kwak to one year in prison, while upholding a lower court guilty verdict.
Kwak was accused of offering 200 million won to professor Park Myoung-gee of Seoul National University of Education through aides in exchange for Park’s withdrawal from the election in June 2010. He was suspended from duty last September but returned to work in January after the lower court only fined him 30 million won ($26,300) without a jail term.
“A sum of 200 million won is a huge amount compared to other bribes in previous Election Law violations. We also rule that Kwak gave the money in exchange for his rival dropping out the election, so the lower court’s punishment was too light,” presiding Judge Kim Dong-oh said.
“Offering or exchanging money in return for the withdrawal from an election is a serious crime that damages the fairness of the election. Such a deal is especially unjustifiable for the election to select a top educator, who has to lead the region’s education,” he said.
If the Supreme Court confirms either the lower court verdict or the high court one, Kwak will be stripped of the post as any civil servant or elected official is removed from office if fined more than 1 million won or given a jail term. He will also have to return 3.5 billion won he received from the National Election Commission as campaign expenses.
The liberal-minded educator was unhappy with the verdict. “The ruling is not understandable. Nothing has changed about the facts, but the court just sought a heavier penalty to keep balance with the term for Park,” Kwak said.
“I hope the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court will find the ultimate truth and deliver justice,” he added.
He has claimed he didn’t know about the “deal” when Park dropped out of the race and the 200 million won he gave was out of “goodwill” as the latter was suffering financial difficulties.
The top court ruling is expected to come around July.
In Park’s case, the appeals court handed down an 18-month prison term and a 200 million won fine, reducing the lower court verdict of three years in jail.
“His wrongdoing is grave as he kept pressing Kwak to pay money. But he lowered his demand to 300 million won from 700 million won after thinking Kwak might have not known about the cash-for-candidacy deal which their subordinates made. Park also contributed a lot to the educational sector for over a decade, so the original punishment was too heavy,” the judge said.
For professor Kang Kyung-seon of Korea National Open University who delivered the money from Kwak to Park, the court upheld the lower court ruling of a 20 million won fine.