The woman whose friendship with former South Korean President Park Geun-hye sparked a massive corruption scandal that resulted in Park’s fall from power has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Choi Soon-sil was sentenced Tuesday in the Seoul Central District Court on charges of abuse of power, bribery and meddling in state affairs. The court also imposed a hefty fine of nearly $17 million on Choi.
The 62-year-old Choi was accused of exercising not just influence but “cult-like” control over Park, even though she had no official government role, and to have exploited her personal relationship with the ex-president to coerce large corporations to donate over $68 million, which she then embezzled and funneled to two nonprofit corporations she controlled.
The court also sentenced Shin Dong-bin, the chairman of the Lotte Group, one of South Korea’s major conglomerates, to two-and-a-half years in prison for bribery. He was charged with donating over $6 million to a foundation backed by Choi in exchange for a state license to open a duty-free shop and other favors.
In a third related case, Ahn Jong-beom, a former senior aide to ex-President Park, was sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power.
Another major figure caught in the scandal was billionaire Samsung Electronics heir Lee Jae-young, who was sentenced last August to five years in prison for bribery, embezzlement, money laundering, sheltering assets overseas and perjury of parliament. An appeals court suspended Lee’s jail sentence last week and ordered his immediate release from prison.
Park’s relationship with Choi dates back to the 1970s, during the time her father Park Chung-hee ruled South Korea for 18 years after coming to power in a coup.
Choi’s father Choi Tae-min, a religious cult leader, became a mentor to Park while she was acting as first lady, after her mother was killed during an assassination attempt on her father. The two women also became close friends during this period when they were both in their 20s.
The revelations of Park’s relationship with Choi and the allegations of bribery and influence peddling led to Park’s impeachment by the South Korean legislature last March and her removal from office by the Constitutional Court. She has been behind bars since her ouster, and is currently on trial on charges of bribery, abuse of authority, coercion and leaking government secrets.