S. Korea’s top court upholds suspended jail term for Lotte chief

This file photo from Oct. 8, 2018, shows Lotte chief Shin Dong-bin at Lotte Tower in southeastern Seoul after he was released following a suspended sentence ruling on Oct. 5. (Yonhap) Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Oct 17, 2019, Yonhap. South Korea’s top court on Thursday affirmed a lower court ruling that gave a suspended jail sentence to Lotte chief Shin Dong-bin in a massive graft scandal that rocked the country and led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye, reported the Yonhap.

Shin, who heads the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, was indicted for giving 7 billion won (US$6 million) in bribes to the former president’s close friend Choi Soon-sil to win government support for the group’s duty-free business.

While the initial court ruling sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in prison, the appeals court in October last year suspended the sentence for four years, effectively releasing him from jail and ending an eight-month leadership vacuum at the retail giant.

The Seoul High Court’s ruling was based on the assumption that Shin “passively” paid the bribes out of fear that refusing to donate money to the nonprofit organization controlled by Choi could hurt his business.

The appeals court also cleared some embezzlement charges that he ordered Lotte affiliates to pay fake wages to some members of his family who never worked for the companies. It agreed with his argument that his father and group founder, Shin Kyuk-ho, had made the decisions, and he simply obeyed his father.

Shin is not the only entrepreneur who was mired in the massive graft scandal that brought down former President Park Geun-hye.

In late August, the Supreme Court also ordered a lower court to review its suspended jail sentence for Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong. Lee was charged for also bribing Choi in an attempt to seek government help in succeeding his father and securing control of the group.

On the same day, the top court also ordered the lower court to review cases involving the former president and her longtime friend Choi. They had been sentenced to 25 years and 20 years in jail, respectively.

The corruption scandal involving the country’s powerful politicians and entrepreneurs angered the public and prompted tens of millions of people to pour into the streets between October and December 2016 to hold candlelight vigils.

Park was impeached by parliament in December 2016. The Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment decision in March 2017, permanently removing her from office a year before the scheduled end of her original five-year term.

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