South Korean Court Jails Ex-President Friend

Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin center who was charged with bribery arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul South Korea Tuesday Feb. 13 2018. A South Korean court is set to deliver a verdict Tuesday in the case of a woman at the center

The Seoul Central District Court sentenced former President Park Geun-hye's lifelong friend Choi Soon-sil to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for abuse of power and extorting tens of billions of won from conglomerates, increasing the odds that Park will receive a similar punishment.

Ms Park was officially ousted in March 2017, following parliament's decision to impeach her. "The accused is sentenced to 20 years in prison".

Choi took advantage of her long-running, private ties with Park, Judge Kim Se-yoon said, to force big South Korean companies such as Samsung to give donations to two foundations, which were meant to be used to encourage sports but were instead slush funds for Park and Choi.

A lawyer for Choi said she will appeal the sentence.

Choi Soon-sil, who through her father, a religious figure, became close to Park, was vilified during the nationwide protests that shook Asia's fourth-largest economy and culminated in Park's impeachment past year.

"Choi's actions shook the order of society, causing great confusion which led to the unprecedented impeachment of a president", a judge said at the Seoul Central District Court. Finally, Park's former aide, Ahn Jeong-beom was given a six-month jail term.

She accepted a total of 14 billion won ($13 million) from telecommunications giant Samsung and retail conglomerate Lotte, he said, and "meddled in state affairs widely".

Choi, who is known to have wielded considerable influence in the government even though she held no official position, was accused of collaborating with Park, who is facing nearly similar corruption charges in a separate trial.

Former senior presidential aide Ahn Jong-beom left who faces six charges including abuse of power arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul South Korea Tuesday Feb. 13 2018. A South Korean court is set to deliver a verdict Tuesday in the
Park confidante sent to jail

Choi pleaded not guilty, claiming she never pursued any personal benefits but attempted to help Parks work, lashing out at the prosecution for "framing" her.

"This is a heavy sentence bordering on cruelty", he told reporters.

"We respect the court's judgment but the outcome is regrettable", Lotte said in a statement. It exposed networks of privilege among the country's business and political elite and has seen more than a dozen officials put behind bars.

The South Korean economy is dominated by giant family-controlled firms known as "chaebol", which powered a decades-long economic boom but have long had murky ties with authorities.

Tuesday's verdict comes just days after an appeals court freed Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong after a year in jail.

His daughter Soon-sil became a close friend of Park's, handling numerous aspects of her daily life even down to her wardrobe choices. She denies any wrongdoing.

Park's own trial has been hit by delays - her defence team quit in protest when the court extended her detention, and new charges have been added to the accusations she faces.

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