7-yr prison term sought for ex-chief justice in judiciary power abuse scandal

September 15, 2023

Prosecutors on Friday demanded a seven-year prison sentence for former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae on charges of unfairly influencing politically sensitive trials under ousted former President Park Geun-hye.

Yang, who headed the top court from 2011-17, is accused of having used trials as bargaining chips in dealings with the Park administration to promote his bid to establish a court of appeals.

He is also suspected of having pressed subordinates at the National Court Administration, the top court’s governing body, to devise plans to influence politically sensitive trials for Park, including a compensation suit pursued by victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor.

Prosecutors demanded the Seoul Central District Court sentence the former chief justice to seven years in prison in the final court hearing held on the case before the sentencing.

Prosecutors accused Yang of seriously breaching his duties as a judge by meddling in trials.

“It cannot be accepted under any circumstances that the organizational interests of the judicial branch are considered in the trial procedures,” the prosecutors said.

“Nevertheless, the independence of trials was disrupted, and the constitutional value of judges’ independence was neglected while people on trial had their rights to a fair trial violated as certain court rulings were demanded,” the prosecutors said.

Friday’s sentencing request came nearly 4 1/2 years after prosecutors indicted Yang in the judiciary power abuse scandal with an unusually high number of 277 court hearings held on the case so far.

The final sentencing in the case will be delivered on Dec. 22, officials said.

The former chief justice was released on bail in July 2019 following 179 days of detention over his suspected role in the power abuse scandal. Yang is the first chief justice ever to have been arrested as a criminal suspect.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae (Yonhap)
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae (Yonhap)