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EX-PRESIDENT Park Geun Hye’s confidante Choi Soon Sil was jailed today for 20 years for bribery, abuse of power and other crimes.
Seoul’s Central District Court also sentenced the chairman of the Lotte Group, South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate, to two-and-a-half years in prison for bribery in the same case.
Ms Park was impeached last March and removed from the presidency in disgrace. She is standing trial on more than a dozen criminal charges and the case against Ms Choi could hint at the penalty she faces if convicted.
The court also fined Ms Choi 18 billion won (£12 million) for her crimes, which included coercing companies to make large donations to foundations she controlled and receiving bribes from Lotte and Samsung — Korea’s largest conglomerate.
Judges said that Lotte chairman Shin Dong Bin offered 7bn won (£4.7m) in bribes to the former president to curry favours, such as to win a government licence to open duty-free shops and to strengthen his control over the firm. Lotte has interests in retail and many other businesses.
The sentencing sent a shockwave through the Korean business class, which had breathed a sigh of relief last week after Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong was released from prison on a suspended sentence with some of his convictions overturned.
Judges ruled on his appeal that Mr Lee had been unable to reject Ms Park’s request to pay off Ms Choi.
However they upheld his convictions of paying 3.6bn won (£2.4m) in bribes through Ms Choi and embezzling the money from Samsung.
In a third case, the court sentenced one of Ms Park’s former senior aides, Ahn Jong Beom, to six years in prison for abusing power.
Ms Choi was largely unknown until a series of revelations in late 2016 disclosed her position as a go-between for Ms Park’s administration and the corporate elite.
She allegedly pulled government strings from the shadows, editing presidential speeches and wielding influence over government personnel even though she held no official position.
Ms Choi also received a three-year prison sentence in a separate case related to her influence-peddling in university admissions.
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