Confidante of Ousted South Korean President Gets 20 Years in Prison
Choi Soon-sil is convicted of abuse of power and bribery as part of country’s sweeping corruption scandal
A South Korean court sentenced Choi Soon-sil, a longtime confidante of ousted President Park Geun-hye, to two decades in prison and imposed a hefty fine for corruption as part of the power-business collusion scandal that has rocked the country for more than a year.
The lower court’s sentencing—though shy of the quarter-century jail term state prosecutors had been seeking—was still the heaviest punishment yet decided by local courts against any of those standing trial in the corruption scandal that led to Ms. Park’s downfall and ushered the new left-leaning government back into power.
Ms. Choi was convicted of most of her multiple criminal charges, including abuse of power and bribery, when the Seoul Central District Court handed down a 20-year jail sentence and an 18-billion-won ($17 million) fine against her Tuesday, court officials said.
The court said “a heavy punishment is inevitable” given the grave nature of Ms. Choi’s crimes, which had resulted in political disorder, Ms. Park’s impeachment and the public’s disappointment.
Ms. Choi was accused of abusing her personal relationship with Ms. Park in order to coerce private companies to donate money to foundations under her control, and she took bribes from such large conglomerates as Samsung and Lotte groups, the court said.
Ms. Choi has denied wrongdoing.
Lee Kyung-jae, a lawyer for Ms. Choi, said he would appeal the court decision. “I had expected the trial to be fair and unbiased. Unfortunately, the outcome was quite the opposite of what I had expected,” Mr. Lee said after the sentencing.
Separately, An Chong-bum, formerly a senior presidential secretary for Ms. Park, was sentenced by the same court to a six-year prison term and a 100-million-won fine for having colluded with Ms. Choi to abuse power and extort money from businesses.
The court also sentenced Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin to 2½ years in prison after finding him guilty of offering seven billion won in bribes to a Ms. Choi-controlled sports foundation at Ms. Park’s request for trying to secure a duty-free shop license and support for his control over the group amid a family ownership feud.
The court ordered Mr. Shin’s arrest immediately after the ruling.
Lotte said in a statement the ruling was unexpected and regrettable, and it indicated it would appeal the decision. “We’re sorry that the court didn’t recognize our call for innocence through evidence in the course of the trial,” the company said.
The court ruling came a week after an appeals court allowed Samsung Group de facto head Lee Jae-yong to be freed from prison after almost a year behind bars. The Seoul High Court last Monday reduced his five-year jail term to a suspended prison sentence of 2½ years, lessening the extent of his alleged wrongdoing and involvement in the corruption scandal.
The scandal first came to light in late 2016 and prompted a wave of massive public protests last year in South Korea, which led to Ms. Park’s impeachment and President Moon Jae-in’s rise to power in a May snap election—the first power transition to a left-leaning government in the country in nine years.
Prosecutors Seek 30-Year Prison Term for Former South Korean President
Park Geun-hye was indicted in April 2017 Feb. 27, 2018 4:06 a.m. ET
Former South Korean President Lee Indicted on Graft Charges
South Korean prosecutors indicted former President Lee Myung-bak on graft charges, days after a fellow former president was sentenced to 24 years in prison in another case tying top political leaders to the rich conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Mr. Lee is accused of taking bribes totaling $5.85 million from Samsung Electronics Co. to pay legal fees incurred by DAS Corp., a car-parts manufacturer in which Mr. Lee’s brother owns a majority stake. Prosecutors on Monday accused Mr. Lee of embezzling $35 million from DAS for his own use.
Prosecutors said Mr. Lee in 2009 gave a presidential pardon to Samsung’s second-generation leader, Lee Kun-hee, who was at the time in prison for tax evasion and stock fraud, in return for the bribes.
Mr. Lee and his lawyers couldn’t be reached for comment, but Mr. Lee has repeatedly denied all the allegations, and has accused the incumbent liberal government of waging a politically motivated campaign against him and his conservative allies.A spokeswoman for Samsung declined to comment. DAS couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. Lee, a conservative who took a hawkish stance on North Korea while in power from 2008 to 2013, was also charged with embezzling $700,000 of government money intended for use by Seoul’s intelligence agency, prosecutors said.
Mr. Lee’s indictment comes 18 days after his arrest for the same allegations, and less than a week after a district court judge sentenced Park Geun-hye, who followed Mr. Lee as president, to a long jail term after she was convicted of accepting bribes from some of the country’s top conglomerates.
Mr. Lee and Ms. Park are the latest additions to a long list of former South Korean leaders to be indicted on charges of alleged wrongdoing during their presidencies. Two were convicted and later pardoned, while a fifth killed himself while being investigated on corruption charges.
The sons of two additional former presidents have also been convicted of bribe-taking. South Korea has had 12 presidents since the country’s founding in 1948.
South Korea’s current president, Moon Jae-in, was elected on a platform promising to end years of corruption and backroom deals between senior politicians and top companies.
South Korea’s Former President Park Geun-hye Is Jailed for 24 Years
Park was ousted last year following an investigation into a corruption scandal that triggered mass protests
A court sentenced former South Korean President Park Geun-hye to 24 years in prison for her involvement in a corruption scandal that led to her ouster from office and ensnared some of the country’s top officials and business leaders.
The ruling on Friday, which included a fine of about $16.8 million, fell short of the 30-year prison term and $110 million fine prosecutors had sought. Still, the sentence handed to Ms. Park, the 66-year-old daughter of South Korea’s longest-serving president, was the heaviest the courts have meted out to any figure in the graft affair that shook the country from late 2016.
In a related case, Lee Jae-yong, the third-generation Samsung heir considered the country’s most powerful businessman, was imprisoned last year for bribery and embezzlement, and released earlier this year on a suspended sentence. He has appealed his case to the Supreme Court.
Anatomy of a Popular Revolt
In photos, how revelations about a shadowy adviser led to South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s ouster from office.
Friday’s verdict makes Ms. Park the third South Korean president to be convicted after leaving office. Another killed himself while being investigated on corruption charges, while Ms. Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was arrested last month on corruption charges that he has described as politically motivated.
The scandal that brought down Ms. Park focused attention on the country’s traditionally close links between the government and family-run business conglomerates, known as chaebols, that dominate the economy.
The court found the former conservative leader guilty on nearly all charges, including bribery, disclosing state secrets, and abuse of power.
“As head of state and president, the defendant should have exercised her power for the freedom and happiness of this country’s people,” said the presiding judge, Kim Se-yun. Instead, he said, Ms. Park put the country “in turmoil.”
The former president was acquitted on two bribery counts related to some of Samsung’s payments to organizations controlled by her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Ms. Park, who in 2013 became South Korea’s first female leader, is expected to appeal. She had previously denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyers couldn’t be reached for comment. Prosecutors said they would review the case and determine whether to appeal.
Ms. Park wasn’t present for the verdict, which was televised nationally. She hasn’t appeared in court since October, when the same court approved an extension of her arrest warrant, prompting her legal team to quit in protest. Ms. Park has since been represented by designated public attorneys.
The verdict adds to convictions against high-profile government and corporate officials implicated in the scandal, including Mr. Lee of Samsung and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin. Mr. Shin denies wrongdoing and has appealed the case to a higher court.
In February, Ms. Park’s longtime confidante Ms. Choi, who was alleged to have colluded with the former president to extract bribes, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She also has appealed.
The graft scandal burst into the open in the fall of 2016 when prosecutors alleged that Ms. Park shared confidential documents with Ms. Choi and conspired with her to extort tens of millions of dollars from business groups, including Samsung and Hyundai.
As the probe widened, prosecutors homed in on a deal in which Samsung allegedly channeled funds to a German company to pay for equestrian training for Ms. Choi’s daughter in return for political favors from Ms. Park’s administration. Samsung denied wrongdoing.
The accusations prompted millions of South Koreans to take to the streets, demanding Ms. Park’s resignation. She was impeached in late 2016 and removed from office in March last year. In a snap election that followed, voters swept Moon Jae-in, the first left-leaning president in nearly a decade, to power.
In response to Friday’s verdict, the presidential Blue House said the situation was “heartbreaking” for South Korea and Ms. Park.
“History that is not remembered can be repeated. We will not forget today,” presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.