In South Korea, Confidante of Ousted President Gets 3 Years in Prison

June 23, 2017

By CHOE SANG-HUN New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — A longtime friend of Park Geun-hye, the ousted president of South Korea, was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday on charges of abusing her influence to get her daughter illegally enrolled in a prestigious university.

The sentencing of the confidante, Choi Soon-sil, was the first to come in any of the trials resulting from one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history. The scandal provoked months of huge protests that culminated in the parliamentary impeachment of Ms. Park in December and her formal removal from office and arrest on corruption charges in March.

In the sentencing on Friday, Ms. Choi was convicted of conspiring with several officials and professors of Ewha Womans University in the capital, Seoul, including its former president, Choi Kyung-hee, to help her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, win admission there in 2015 despite a lack of qualifications. A recent inquiry by the Education Ministry revealed that Ms. Chung had been admitted at the expense of candidates with better credentials.

Choi Soon-sil and the professors were also convicted of conspiring to give Ms. Chung good grades, even though she hardly attended classes.

Choi Kyung-hee, the former university president, and a former dean of Ewha each received a two-year prison term. Another school official was sentenced to one and a half years in prison. Three other professors received suspended prison terms. Two others were fined.

The accused “helped undermine the public trust in the university and seriously damaged the value of fairness that supported our society,” the presiding judge, Kim Soo-jeong, said in the sentencing.

Choi Soon-sil is separately being tried on more serious charges, like the accusation that she colluded with Ms. Park to take tens of millions of dollars from the country’s largest companies in bribes and through extortion. The trials on those charges were continuing.

Ms. Chung, the daughter, was extradited from Denmark last month, and prosecutors were working to formally indict her on criminal charges for her supposed role in the scandal.

She became a lightning rod for anger over social injustice after revelations that she enjoyed preferential treatment because of her mother’s presidential connections.

Prosecutors say that the bribes Choi Soon-sil and Ms. Park are accused of collecting included $6.2 million from Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, donated to support Ms. Chung’s equestrian career. She once trained in Germany using a thoroughbred acquired for $830,000.

The Choi family’s apparent sense of entitlement helped set off the public outrage that spawned Ms. Park’s political demise. In a Facebook post in 2014, Ms. Chung belittled friends less well off than she was.

“You’ve got nothing but your parents to blame for your lack of resources,” Ms. Chung wrote.

The accusations of illegal enrollment have been particularly inflammatory in South Korea, where students cram for years to prepare for intensely competitive college-entrance exams. Her entrance to the university was revoked after the scandal broke.


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