25 years' jail sought for Park's friend in graft case

Choi Soon Sil arriving at the Seoul Central District Court yesterday. She is accused of colluding with ousted president Park Geun Hye to extort millions from conglomerates and using her links with Park to meddle in state affairs.
Choi Soon Sil arriving at the Seoul Central District Court yesterday. She is accused of colluding with ousted president Park Geun Hye to extort millions from conglomerates and using her links with Park to meddle in state affairs.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

South Korea prosecutors call Choi 'alpha and omega of scandal' who created national crisis

SEOUL • The powerful secret confidante at the centre of the sprawling corruption scandal that brought down South Korean president Park Geun Hye should spend the next quarter of a century in prison, prosecutors demanded yesterday.

Park's long-time friend, Choi Soon Sil - the daughter of her religious guru - was vilified at massive nationwide protests last year that rocked Asia's fourth-largest economy and led to Park's impeachment.

Choi was "the alpha and omega of the scandal", a prosecutor told the Seoul Central District Court, "the very person who created a national crisis which resulted in the country's first impeachment of a president".

She "took advantage of the presidential authorities to seek personal profit, undermined constitutional values and rattled the government system", he said. "Please sentence Choi to 25 years in prison."

He also sought fines and asset seizures totalling 126.2 billion won (S$157 million).

The 61-year-old is accused of colluding with Park to extort millions of dollars from conglomerates, including South Korean giants Samsung and Hyundai, and using her connection with the president to meddle in state affairs.

Choi has denied all 18 charges, including abuse of power, coercion and bribery. The verdict will be delivered on Jan 26 next year.

Prosecutors are also seeking four years' jail and a fine of seven billion won (S$8.7 million for Shin Dong Bin, the chairman of retail conglomerate Lotte Group, and six years for a former presidential aide.

  • $157m What prosecutors are seeking in terms of asset seizures and fines in relation to Choi Soon Sil.

    $8.7m The fine - in addition to a four-year jail term - sought for Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin, who is accused of paying bribes to an organisation linked to Choi in return for government favours in offering a duty-free licence.

Shin is accused of paying bribes totalling seven billion won to an organisation linked to Choi in return for government favours in offering a duty-free licence, a Lotte spokesman said yesterday. Shin has denied the charges during trials.

The bribery scandal, one of the largest in South Korea's modern history, has exposed networks of privilege among the country's business and political elite and has seen a handful of officials and business leaders put behind bars.

Lee Jae Yong - heir to the world's largest smartphone-maker, Samsung Group - began a five-year prison sentence in August for bribery, perjury and other charges relating to payments made by Samsung to Choi. He is appealing against the verdict.

Park was impeached in March and taken into custody shortly afterwards. Her own separate trial on multiple charges, including abuse of power, coercion and bribery, is continuing after the court extended her detention for six months in October, prompting her defence team to resign in protest.

It is unclear when a verdict might come in her marathon case, which has involved more than 100 witnesses. But yesterday's request suggests that prosecutors will demand a sentence of at least 25 years for her.

"It has been proven beyond any doubt that Choi and the former president colluded to take bribes," the prosecutor said yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline '25 years' jail sought for Park's friend in graft case'. Print Edition | Subscribe