Fate of key figures in S. Korean scandal that toppled Park
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — It’s the biggest political scandal in recent South Korean history, with more than 50 high-profile figures spending time in prison or facing trial, including ex-President Park Geun-hye, her confidante of 40 years, Choi Soon-sil, and billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong. The latest chapter in the snowballing scandal saw Park formally convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison on Friday.
Here’s look at the fates of some of the key players:
Impeached by parliament in December 2016 and officially ousted from office in March 2017, Park has been held at a detention facility for about a year on a broad range of corruption charges. The Seoul Central District Court on Friday convicted her of bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other crimes while in office from 2013-2016.
Among the key charges are that she colluded with her friend Choi to take tens of millions of dollars from businesses, including Samsung, in bribes and extortion.
Park, a daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee, has maintained her innocence, saying she’s a victim of “political revenge.”
Choi received a 20-year prison term in February for charges similar to Park’s. Choi appealed the ruling, and her lawyer called the charges a complete fabrication by those who wanted to overthrow Park’s government.
In late October 2016, when she faced a huge media scrum at a Seoul prosecutors’ office, Choi said, “I committed a sin that deserves death.”
Choi’s friendship with Park started in the mid-1970s, when Park began serving as first lady after the assassination of her mother in 1974. Park’s father was killed by his own spy chief in 1979. Park once described Choi as someone who helped her when she had difficulties in the past.
Last August, Samsung’s billionaire heir received a five-year prison term for bribery and other charges. Lee was convicted of giving bribes to Park and Choi in return for government support for his attempt to solidify control over the business empire and other charges.
He was freed in February after a Seoul appellate court overturned some of his convictions and suspended his sentence.
Both Lee and prosecutors appealed February’s ruling. Lee is the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman Lee Kun-hee. His imprisonment last year surprised many because South Korean courts had long showed leniency toward crimes by business tycoons.
Shin, chairman of the powerful Lotte Group, South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison in February for offering bribes to Choi’s foundations to try to get a government license to open a duty-free shop and other favors.
In 2016, he was embroiled in a family feud with his elder brother over who should succeed their aging father, the group founder.
Kim, Park’s powerful chief of staff, is serving a four-year prison term for blacklisting thousands of artists and denying them state support because of their critical views of Park’s policies. Kim, 78, was involved in the 1972 creation of a constitution aimed at prolonging Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship.
Once dubbed as the “Cinderella” of the Park government, Cho, a former culture minister, initially got a suspended prison term over the blacklist scandal.
But she eventually went to prison after an appellate court overturned an earlier ruling and handed her a two-year prison sentence. Before becoming culture minister, Cho served as Park’s senior political adviser and gender equality minister.
Chung, Choi’s only daughter and an equestrian athlete, was extradited from Denmark in May 2017. Her mother was convicted for using her presidential ties to unlawfully get Chung into a prestigious Seoul university.
Revelations about Chung getting a free pass angered many students who joined anti-Park rallies. Chung has been cooperating in prosecutors’ investigation, and she hasn’t been arrested or indicted. Chung competed in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, and won a gold medal in a team equestrian event.
The Seoul-based plastic surgeon received a suspended prison sentence last year for providing Park with secret cosmetic treatments, something that was supposed to be done only by an official presidential doctor, and also for perjury.
He had denied treating Park during a parliamentary hearing, only to admit later that he gave Park botox injections. Kim’s wife also received a prison term for bribing one of Park’s top aides in return for business favors.
PARK’S THREE SPY CHIEFS
Three of Park’s spy chiefs are on trial on charges that they passed some of their agency’s official funds to Park for her personal use. They gave Park a total of 3.5 billion won ($3.3 million) in official funds, and Park allegedly used that to pay maintenance fees for her private residence and Choi’s boutique and give money to her aides, according to Seoul prosecutors’ office.
The spy chiefs, Nam Jae-joon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Byoung Ho, are all on trial.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.