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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 31)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 09:30 August 31, 2019

No one is above law
Top court reaffirms no tolerance on corruption

The Supreme Court's ruling in the massive corruption case involving disgraced President Park Geun-hye has sent a clear message that the country should break corrupt ties between politicians and tycoons. On Thursday, the court ordered a lower court to conduct a retrial for Park, her confidant Choi Soon-sil and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

No doubt the top court made the decision to the effect that Park and Lee should be subject to heavier sentences than those the Seoul High Court handed down. We welcome the ruling because the Supreme Court has reaffirmed zero-tolerance as far as corruption is concerned. No one should be above the law.

The court action came almost three years after the unprecedented corruption scandal surrounding former President Park erupted in 2016. The scandal prompted massive candlelit rallies and led to the impeachment of Park and her ouster from power in March 2017. The indictment and trial process has so far revealed that she and her inner circle were deeply implicated in widespread corruption.

Now we hope the lower court will review the case in a fair and thorough manner so it can deliver more proper sentences. Park is likely to face heavier punishment than the 25-year jail term the Seoul High Court gave to her, because the top court ordered the appellate court to calculate the prison term separately for bribery charges and other charges.

More noticeable is the top court's request for a much heavier sentence for Samsung heir Lee. He was sentenced initially to five years in prison in 2017 for providing 8.9 billion won ($7.3 million) in bribes to Park's longtime friend Choi to seek the government's help in succeeding his father and securing control of Samsung Group.

But the appeals court acknowledged that Lee gave only 3.6 billion won in bribes to Choi, dismissing many of the bribery charges against him. It also set him free by reducing the term to two and a half years, suspended for four years. However, the Supreme Court found Lee guilty of offering an additional 5 billion won in bribes to Choi. The sum included 3.4 billion won spent on horses for Choi's daughter for equestrian training. The remaining money was 1.6 billion won Samsung donated to a sports foundation that Choi controlled.

The top court concluded that Samsung offered the additional bribes in return for the Park administration's help in facilitating Lee's takeover of managerial rights of the nation's largest conglomerate from his father. So Lee is likely to be put back into jail because the lower court will inevitably hand down a longer term.

The top court's decision should serve as an opportunity for the country to root out rampant corruption in every sector of our society. It is imperative to usher in clean politics as well as improve accountability and transparency of corporations. Without doing so, Korea cannot firmly establish the rule of law ― one of the crucial pillars for democracy.
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