Former South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye’s friend who was at the center of an influence-peddling scandal that rocked the country’s business and political elite has been sentenced to 20 years in jail, a Seoul court said on Tuesday.
The court also sentenced the chairman of the Lotte Group, the country’s fifth-largest conglomerate, to two years and six months in prison in the same case.
Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of Park, was convicted of receiving bribes from South Korean conglomerates including Samsung, the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and semiconductors, and the Lotte Group.
Park was dismissed from the presidency last March after being impeached and standing trial separately on charges of bribery, abuse of power and coercion. She denies any wrongdoing.
Lotte’s chairman, Shin Dong-bin, was in court at the time of the verdict and was taken into custody.
“His act crushed the hopes and faith of the community and the people… Giving bribes hurts the fairness of society,” said Kim Se-yun, the presiding judge.
Shin’s arrest creates a leadership vacuum at Lotte, a retail-to-chemicals giant with 110.8 trillion won ($102 billion) worth of assets, as it navigates mounting losses at its China operations.
The verdict comes at a time when Lotte, a sponsor of the Winter Olympics currently on in South Korea, had stepped up marketing in a bid to promote its brand and boost sales. Shin, who is also president of the Korea Ski Association, was staying in Pyeongchang, the venue of the Games, before coming to Seoul for the court verdict.
After the court ruling, Lotte said the chairman’s jail sentence was “unexpected”, noting that it could affect the retail giant’s current plans such as an initial public offering of key unit Hotel Lotte.
“The situation was unexpected and we are in despair. We respect the court’s decision, but the result is very regrettable.” Lotte said in a statement.
Last year, Lotte was shunned in China after providing land to South Korea’s government so that a U.S. anti-missile system could be installed in the country.
The conglomerate has also suffered because of infighting in 2015 between Shin and his brother.
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Author: Our Correspondents