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A weighty verdict

Aug 25,2017
The Seoul Central District Court delivers a ruling today in a high-profile case involving Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who is accused of giving bribes to former president Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil in return for favors. The trial will surely have huge repercussions at home and abroad as it involves a former head of state and the de facto leader of the largest business group in South Korea.

The verdict will offer an opportunity for the public to grasp the political implications of the legitimacy of Park’s impeachment and determine how much of an impact the alleged bribery will have on Samsung’s reputation as a global business leader. It is also a moment that should reinforce the rule of law in our society.

The verdict depends on whether judges interpret Lee’s offering of money as a bribe or an action he had to take after being coerced by Park and Choi. Lee faces charges that he gave — or promised to give — 43.3 billion won ($38.4 million) in bribes for favors. The prosecution has asked the court to give Lee a 12-year prison term, citing “abundant evidence” of his violation of the law. Prosecutors believe that the money Lee gave to support Choi’s daughter’s equestrian activities and to help set up the Mir and K-sports foundations all constitute a bribe aimed at seeking their help in smoothly inheriting the managerial rights at Samsung from his father Lee Kun-hee, chairman of the conglomerate.

Lawyers for Vice Chairman Lee argued he was a victim and the independent counsel is framing him. They claim that he was forced to give the money rather than voluntarily offering it. As the pretrial process showed, no decisive or direct evidence was found to back the prosecution’s arguments. Therefore, the ruling will be determined by judges’ interpretations of testimony and circumstantial evidence.

We welcome the court’s decision not to allow the trial to be covered live on television. The court must have reached its decision in order not to be influenced by any biases or populism. As it turned out, all types of mudslinging and even terrorist threats are rampant in cyberspace in relation to the trial.

The court should not apply overly lenient standards to chaebol. At the same time, it must not be swayed by unidentified civic groups that pretend to reflect public opinion. The judges must make a decision solely based on the law and evidence without surrendering to any pressure. Only when the court respects the rule of law will the trial be remembered as a milestone for the judiciary.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 25, Page 30