South Korea’s Highest Court Upholds Conviction For Ex-Prime Minister Bribery Conviction

kpopluv, Aug. 20, 2015, 7:42 a.m.

The top court Thursday upheld a lower court's ruling on former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, sentencing her to two years behind bars for accepting bribes as political funds from the head of a local construction company. The Supreme Court found Han, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2007 under the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, guilty of receiving 880 million won (US$760,000) in illicit political funds during the presidential campaign in 2007.

The sentence deprived Han of her parliamentary seat, reducing the number of seats held by the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) to 128. "I follow the court's ruling but do not accept it. I am innocent in the court of conscience," Han said in a press release. Han also called the ruling "political revenge," saying that the prosecution and the courts targeted not only former President Roh but also her.

The appeals court's decision ordering Han to forfeit the 880 million won was also confirmed by the top court. The head of a local construction firm, who had confessed to the prosecution that he gave kickbacks to Han, changed his statement at the first trial held in April 2010. While a district court acquitted Han, citing a lack of credibility over the statement made by the businessman during the prosecution's investigation, the appeals court overturned the original decision.

The Seoul High Court, however, did not put the country's first female prime minster under custody, taking into consideration that she is a sitting lawmaker. "The statement by the businessman was made before prosecutors found other evidence, such as financial documents, to back up Han's allegation," Chief Justice Yang Seung-tae said, explaining the credibility of his statement. Moon Jae-in, the NPAD chief, opposed the ruling, saying that the court delivered the ruling with political motivation.

"I am very disappointed with the Supreme Court decision," Moon told reporters following the ruling. "I believe that political efforts and improving the system are necessary in order to secure the democratization of the judiciary, independence of the politics and the independence of the judiciary." In addition to Han, several NPAD lawmakers, including Rep. Park Jie-won, are standing trial on various charges.

Park is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on suspicion of taking illegal political funds from savings banks. Reps. Kim Jae-yun, Shin Geh-ryeun, and Shin Hak-yong, meanwhile, are suspected of taking kickbacks from a local vocational training school earlier this year in return for helping pass a bill in favor of the school.

Rep. Kim Hyun is also standing trial on suspicion of assaulting a driver for families of victims of the Sewol ferry sinking. The ruling Saenuri party argued that the ruling was righteous. "The New Politics Alliance for Democracy should accept this court's result and offer an apology," said Kim Young-woo, a chief spokesman, at a press briefing at the National Assembly. Rep. Moon Jeong-lim of the Saenuri Party criticized the ruling as "belated," saying that "belated justice is not justice. The party is sorry for the Supreme Court's belated ruling." The first trial at a district court began five years ago and hearings at the Supreme Court had taken nearly two years.

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