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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 14)

2018/02/14 07:01

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Grave crimes, big punishment

The Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday sentenced Choi Soon-sil, the confidante who played a key role in former President Park Geun-hye's dramatic fall from grace last year, to 20 years in jail, levied an 18 billion won (US$16.6 million) fine and slapped her with an additional 7.2 billion won in penalties. Independent Counsel Park Young-soo, who acted as the prosecutor in the case, had requested a 25 year sentence in prison, 118.5 billion won in fines and 7.8 billion won in additional penalties. Given the massive amount of money involved, the court's ruling is considered a grave punishment.

The bench based its ruling on Choi's unprecedented abuse of power based on her special connection with the president, which helped hand Choi a whopping 7.2 billion won in bribes and eventually led to the impeachment and ouster of Park last year. Judges rebuked the defendant for denying all her charges despite the gravity of her crimes, putting the blame on others, and showing no signs of remorse. We believe that the court's ruling paves the way to ending the practice of trying to take advantage of close relations with heads of state for personal gains.

The first trial has ended after 15 months of a heated court battle since Choi was put behind bars in 2016. As the court found her guilty, the prosecution now can be relieved and satisfied by the tough sentence handed down by the court.

Choi was indicted on 18 charges, including coercing a number of conglomerates to donate a hefty amount of money for her personal purposes and receiving bribes from them. The bench accepted the independent counsel's charge of collusion with former President Park to force Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and other local business tycoons to donate money to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations she set up in the name of promoting sports. The court reached the judgment that her act constituted an attempt to compel large companies to give their money to her foundations by exploiting the former president's power.

Former President Park awaits the court's ruling. She has been undergoing trial after she was prosecuted on 21 charges. Among the charges, 11 are overlapping with Choi's. Legal experts anticipate that the first court's ruling to impose a heavy penalty on Choi will almost certainly affect the ongoing trials of the former president, who was also indicted on charges of complicity in Choi's case.

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