Friend of former South Korea leader jailed for 20 years

Chung Sung Jun | Getty Images

Chung Sung Jun | Getty Images

Shin, who turns 63 on Wednesday, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after the Seoul Central District Court found him guilty of charges stemming from Lotte's decision to give 7 billion won ($6.5 million) to a confidante of former President Park Geun-hye, allegedly in exchange for government favors in providing a license to operate duty-free stores.

She was also convicted of receiving 7.29 billion won (6.7 million USA dollars) in bribes from Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, an heir apparent to Samsung Group, the country's biggest family-controlled conglomerate.

Prosecutors had demanded a 25-year jail term for Choi on charges including coercion, bribery, influence-peddling and abuse of authority. Former presidential aide An Chong-bum was sentenced to six years of prison and a fine of 100 million won for corruption.

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).

In the same case, Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined US$6.5 million for bribery.

Shin was immediately put under custody in the courtroom.

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Among her crimes was coercing major companies to donate huge sums to foundations under her control and receiving bribes from Samsung and Lotte. "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".

"Twenty years for a white-collar crime is exceptional and it is hard to see the sentence being reduced on appeal, because the court is so obviously conscious of public outrage that someone had to be held responsible", said Brendon Carr, a senior foreign legal consultant at Seoul law firm Hwang, Hong and Co. Judge Kim is also presiding over Park's trial.

The court said Choi is guilty of receiving or demanding bribes from Lotte Group and SK Group through K-Sports Foundation.

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.

In addition to overthrowing a president - the first time a national leader had been successfully impeached in South Korean history - the scandal also implicated multiple members of Park's government, and many of Korea's highest-profile businessmen, including most notably Lee Jae-yong, the third-generation heir to the Samsung business empire. 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.

The massive scandal involving Choi and Park triggered weeks of street protests calling for Park to step down.

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