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Ex-presidential aide given suspended prison term for doctoring Sewol ferry sinking report

National 14:51 August 14, 2019

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- Kim Ki-choon, a former chief of staff to ousted President Park Geun-hye, was given a suspended prison sentence Wednesday for doctoring the time log of reports to the president on a 2014 ferry sinking that took more than 300 lives.

The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Kim to a one-year imprisonment, suspended for two years, after convicting him of drafting false official documents in 2014 to prevent any blame for the sinking of the Sewol ferry from falling on then President Park.

Kim was indicted in March last year, together with two former heads of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office (NSO) -- Kim Jang-soo and Kim Kwan-jin -- on charges of document falsification related to their reports on the ferry sinking to Park.

Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon (Yonhap)

But the Seoul court acquitted the two former heads of the NSO, citing lack of evidence.

On April 16, 2014, the 6,800-ton Sewol ferry carrying 476 passengers en route to the resort island of Jeju capsized in waters off the southern coast, killing 304 people, mostly high school students on a school trip.

The three former officials were accused of altering the time Park had first been briefed on the accident, to 10 a.m. from 9:30 a.m., in an apparent attempt to conceal the president's unaccounted whereabouts at the time of the sinking.

The court said Kim Ki-choon was guilty of falsifying Sewol-related documents submitted to the National Assembly, while raising questions about whether Park was properly briefed on the ferry sinking. The court, however, said it considered his old age, frail health and other circumstances in determining his sentence.

As for its decision to acquit the two former NSO heads, the court explained that there was no sufficient evidence to prove they intentionally doctored official documents on the time of Sewol-related reports to Park.

The same court also sentenced Yoon Jeon-choo, a former Cheong Wa Dae official indicted for perjury related to the ferry sinking during a Constitutional Court impeachment hearing, to a prison term of eight months, suspended for two years.

As the defendants were acquitted or given suspended sentences, some bereaved families of Sewol victims made strong protests against the court, saying the rulings are nonsense and invalid.


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