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A tragedy repeated

Oct 08,2018
Former President Lee Myung-bak was found guilty of multiple charges, including corruption, embezzlement and bribery, and sentenced to 15 years in jail. He became the fourth Korean head of state to be convicted of crimes after leaving office. The court slapped heavy punishments on the retired president for committing crimes while in office. Just a few months ago, ousted President Park Geun-hye was pronounced guilty in lower and higher courts of very similar crimes.

In a verdict televised live, head judge Jeong Gye-seon said the bench found Lee guilty of seven out of 16 counts and sentenced him to a 15-year prison term and a fine of 13 billion won ($11.5 million). The court concluded that the 77-year-old defendant was the real owner of auto parts maker DAS, which embezzled money to use as a slush fund, and defined as bribes the legal expenses Samsung Group paid on behalf of DAS for a legal suit in the U.S. The cash Lee received from former Woori Financial Group was also described as bribes. Lee denied any connection to DAS when he came under suspicion as a presidential candidate in 2007 and was elected president while hiding those assets. The prosecution charged that Lee had enjoyed the presidential title although he was ineligible to run after violating the public office election law.

The court also agreed with the prosecution’s charges that Lee ordered a Blue House official to arrange for the coverage of DAS’s legal expenses in the U.S., pocketed funds from the National Intelligence Service, and forced public officials to find ways for him to avoid tax payments. “These excesses by the president have brought about huge disappointment and distrust in the bureaucratic society and the society in general,” the court said.

Lee’s lawyers claimed that most of the prosecution’s evidence was testimonies while its documents refuting the charges were ignored. They also claimed the ruling was politically biased as the judge was a liberal.

As there is no such thing as a perfect ruling, controversy is inevitable in a political case. Nevertheless, it is a pity that even former presidents cannot trust the judicial system. Like Park, Lee chose to boycott his final hearing. Both presidents claimed they were being framed, flatly denying any wrongdoings.

Separately, the Seoul High Court freed Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin by replacing a lower court’s 30-month prison sentence with four years of probation. Although Shin handed over money to former President Park, the court claimed that he was “forced” to do so under the circumstances.

JoongAng Sunday, Oct. 6-7, Page 34