Friend of ex-S. Korean president, Lotte chairman get prison


Choi Soon-sil leaves the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Tuesday.

The decades-long confidante of the impeached president was taken into custody in November 2016, and indicted in the same month for 18 counts of corruption.

Lotte Holdings Chairman Shin Dong-bin also received two years and six months in jail for paying 7 billion won ($6.4 million at the current exchange rate) in bribes to Choi, seeking her influence in obtaining a license to operate a duty-free shop in the company's Lotte World Tower in southern Seoul.

The court found Choi guilty of accepting 7.3 billion won from Samsung in sponsorship of her daughter's equestrian training, in line with a lower court ruling in August on Samsung's de facto head Lee Jae-yong.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and state prosecutors claimed that Choi received, or promised to receive, 43.3 billion won (39.9 million USA dollars) from the Samsung heir who was released from prison after the appeals court's ruling last week. Also out today a ruling on Ahn Chong-bum, the former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination under Park, who was involved in Choi's influence peddling.

Prosecutors originally demanded 25 years in prison for Choi, with a fine of 118.5 billion won (109 million USA dollars) and a forfeit of 7.79 billion won (7.18 million US dollars).

At the time of the sentencing, Lotte's chairman, Shin Dong-bin, was also arrested.

Shin was immediately put under custody in the courtroom.

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Kim, the judge, said Park "abandoned constitutionally-given responsibility and gave position and power to others" and that Choi used her position "to monopolize state business and seek personal gain".

Special Counsel Park Young-soo and state prosecutors demanded 25 years in prison for Choi, with a fine of 118.2 billion won and forfeiture of 7.7 billion won.

Ms Park's own trial has been hit by delays - her defence team quit in protest when the court extended her detention, and new charges have been added to her indictment. She denies any wrongdoing.

Choi Soon-sil - who became close to Ms Park through her father, a shadowy religious figure - was vilified during the massive nationwide protests that rocked Asia's fourth-largest economy and culminated in Ms Park's impeachment a year ago.

The verdict on Choi heralded a heavy punishment on the ousted president as the court ruled that Choi was complicit with Park in abusing the presidential power and extorting a huge money from large conglomerates.

Park, who is in jail, is now being defended by state attorneys after her defense team resigned en masse last October in protest at the extension of her detention period until April this year.

Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin at a news conference in Seoul on October 25, 2016. Park's presidency ended a year short following the Constitutional Court's March 10 ruling on her ousting.