+ A

Choi Soon-sil sentenced to serve 20 years

Park Geun-hye was named co-conspirator in 14 of her 18 charges
Feb 14,2018
Choi Soon-sil, the 40-year confidante of ousted President Park Geun-hye and a central figure in the political scandal that ended Park’s presidency last year, was convicted on Tuesday of coercing conglomerates to receive bribes and sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.

The Seoul Central District Court announced Tuesday its ruling and sentencing of Choi, indicted as a co-conspirator of Park’s abuse of power and corruption scandal that led to her impeachment. Choi was convicted of most of the 18 charges she was indicted on, and the court also recognized her conspiracy with Park in many areas.

Judge Kim Se-yun said Tuesday that Choi must pay 18 billion won ($16.6 million) in fines. The court also said 7.29 billion won will be confiscated from Choi, as the amount equals profits from her crimes.

Although the 20-year sentence is lighter than the 25-year term Independent Counsel Park Young-soo sought, it is still the heaviest punishment received so far by a suspect in the scandal.

“Because of Choi, the country was in enormous chaos and experienced the unprecedented presidential impeachment,” the court said. “The president, who abandoned her constitutional duty and shared power and prestige bestowed by the people with an individual who holds no public office, and Choi, who went after her private gains, are responsible.”

The outcome of Choi’s trial is seen as a preview to Park’s trial, as she was labeled a co-conspirator in 14 of Choi’s 18 charges, in addition to her own. Judge Kim is also presiding over Park’s trial.

Choi was convicted of coercing Samsung Group to fund expensive equestrian training for her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra. The court said Choi received a total of 7.29 billion won from Samsung in sponsorship.

“Park made a demand to Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to support Chung’s equestrian training and Choi played a crucial part in coordinating the process, going beyond the role as a simple receiver,” the court said. “When Choi was receiving Lee’s sponsorship, she should have been aware that it was a bribe in return for the president’s authority.”

The court said Choi is guilty of receiving or demanding bribes from Lotte Group and SK Group through K-Sports Foundation. Choi received 7 billion won from Lotte but later returned it. She also demanded that SK Group donate 8.9 billion won to the foundation, but SK did not pay.

The court said Choi is guilty of abuse of power and coercion by collecting 77.4 billion won from dozens of companies through the two nonprofit Mi-R and K-Sports foundations. The court also made clear that the Park Blue House created the foundations.

Choi was also convicted of coercing Samsung to pay more than 1.6 billion won to a winter sports center for youth, established under her initiative.

The court, however, said the conglomerates’ donations to the two foundations and Samsung’s support for the sports center do not qualify as bribes, rejecting Independent Counsel Park Young-soo’s argument in the indictment. Judge Kim said the bribery charge requires an improper solicitation, but the conglomerates made no requests.

The key to the case was whether Samsung Group had sought Park’s influence over a state-run insurance corporation in order to exercise its voting right to support a merger of its two affiliates, which was seen as crucial to cementing Lee’s control over the country’s biggest conglomerate.

The court, however, said there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Samsung was pursuing a process of management control succession.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]