Choi was found guilty of abusing her ties with the president to force professors at Seoul’s Ewha Woman’s University to admit her daughter to the prestigious school and attempting to bribe teachers into giving good grades. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Chung Sung-Jun
The woman at the centre of South Korea’s corruption scandal, Choi Soon-Sil, was handed a three-year jail term for bribery Friday in the first of a string of criminal cases against a figure dubbed the “female Rasputin”.
The scandal involving Choi and her longtime friend, disgraced ex-president Park Geun-Hye who was ousted in March, has rocked the political and business elite.
Choi was found guilty of abusing her ties with the president to force professors at Seoul’s Ewha Woman’s University to admit her daughter to the prestigious school and attempting to bribe teachers into giving good grades.
The Seoul Central District Court handed down a three-year sentence on charges of bribery and obstruction, less than the seven-year term the prosecution had demanded.
Choi pleaded not guilty, telling the court that she never asked for special treatment for her daughter, Chung Yoo-Ra.
But the judges said that Choi had abused her influence to get her daughter into the school and awarded good grades, despite a poor attendance record.
A state probe revealed that the school had admitted Chung at the expense of better-qualified candidates — a revelation which touched a raw nerve in education-obsessed South Korea.
“She committed too much wrongdoing to consider the actions were out of love as a mother who wants the best for her child,” the court said.
A former Ewha University dean and the university’s former head of admissions — who were both found guilty of complying with Choi’s requests — were both handed two years and 18 months in jail.
Seven other people involved in the scandal were given prison terms or suspended sentences.
Chung’s university position and her high school diploma have already been revoked, following an official probe which found her high school attendance and test grades had been forged.
Funded by Samsung?
Choi also faces charges that she accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, to finance her daughter’s equestrian training and luxurious lifestyle in Europe.
She is also charged with forcing business companies to donate tens of millions of dollars to two dubious foundations she controlled.
Park is also on trial over the claims.
Choi and Park could face decades in jail if convicted on the charges of extortion and abuse of power.
The 20-year-old daughter, an Asian Games equestrian gold medalist, fled to Europe last year but was extradited from Denmark in April to face possible charges for her role in the scandal.
Prosecutors have twice sought to arrest her over her role in the scandal, arguing that Samsung had sponsored her equestrian training.
She initially denied any knowledge, but later admitted under questioning that she was aware that Samsung were bankrolling her.
Samsung’s heir Lee Jae-Yong, who has also been arrested and is currently on trial, has denied asking for policy favours when he met Park, arguing that Samsung was a victim of blackmail by the ex-president and Choi.
Choi wielded huge influence over the then-president and was a key figure in the influence-peddling scandal that sparked huge street protests that led to Park’s ousting.
Park allegedly leaked confidential documents to her friend, and allowed her to meddle in state affairs — including the appointments of senior officials.