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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 8)

All Headlines 07:04 October 08, 2018

Too lenient with chaebol
: Court hit for sentencing Lotte chief to suspended jail term

The judiciary is again under attack for ignoring the principle that everyone is equal before the law. On Friday, an appeals court released Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, who was jailed after being found guilty on corruption charges in February, by handing down a suspended prison term.

Shin's release followed the similar case of Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. Lee was also freed early this year after being given a suspended term for offering bribes to Choi Sun-sil, a longtime friend of jailed former President Park Geun-hye.

The Seoul High Court sentenced Shin to 30 months in prison, suspended for four years, on charges of offering 7 billion won (US$6.2 million) in bribes to a nonprofit sports foundation controlled by Choi. This is a far cry from the lower court's decision to put him in jail for as many months.

The suspended term defies the public's understanding that executives of family-run conglomerates, or chaebol, should be subject to as stern a punishment as ordinary people should for crimes. There should be no exception for chaebol families as far as equality before the law is concerned.

The court acknowledged the lower court's judgment that Lotte, the country's fifth-largest conglomerate, provided the money to the foundation in return for state favors regarding its duty-free business. But it said Shin made the payment "passively" after a demand from then President Park. It also added that Shin feared that refusing the request would disadvantage the group.

It is hard to understand why the appeals court gave the impression that it is sympathetic toward Lotte, instead of getting tougher over the company's bribes-for-business favors scheme.

The public's resentment toward the judiciary already runs deep, especially since the appeals court sentenced Samsung heir Lee to 30 months in prison, suspended for four years, in February. This sentence was too lenient compared with the lower court's five-year jail term for giving 7.2 billion won in bribes to Cho's foundation.

Judges cannot deflect criticism for "saving" chaebol and their CEOs, despite serious violations of the law. The judiciary is the last bulwark of the rule of law and democracy, so it should be tougher with law-breaking chaebol. Otherwise, the country will not break the collusive ties between political power and businesses, nor will it win the war on corruption with leniency.

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