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(LEAD) Court maintains ex-presidential aide's suspended prison term for doctoring Sewol ferry sinking report

National 16:40 July 09, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 6-8)

SEOUL, July 9 (Yonhap) -- An appeals court on Thursday upheld a suspended prison sentence for a former presidential aide for doctoring a report related to the sinking of a ferry in 2014.

The Seoul High Court upheld a lower court's ruling from August last year, in which Kim Ki-choon, a former chief of staff to ousted President Park Geun-hye, was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for two years.

He was convicted of drafting false official documents to protect then-President Park from being blamed for the government's botched rescue operation when the ferry Sewol sank, causing more than 300 deaths.

The appeals court said that former President Park was confirmed to have been at her residence and unaware of the accident in the frantic early hours.

"The defendant falsely wrote in the report submitted to the National Assembly that the president was briefed on the development and knew what was going on," it said, chastising Kim for lying to help prevent public criticism directed at the president.

Family members of the victims, who were present at the court, expressed frustration with the ruling, labeling it "an insult to the victims" and calling on the prosecution to take the case to a higher court.

"Those who were supposed to work as the control tower in the national crisis failed to do so, and they ended up creating a false story to avoid responsibility," Lee Jung-il, of the legal team helping the victims' families, told reporters.

"The punishment (for Kim) should have been heavier and more sufficient," he said.

Kim Ki-choon (L) heads to a hearing at the Seoul High Court on July 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

Kim was indicted in March 2018, 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.

The court also upheld the previous sentences for the two NSO officials, acquitting them of the charges, 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 salvaged Sewol ferry sits at a port in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, southwestern South Korea, on April 16, 2020, the sixth anniversary of the sinking of the 6,800-ton Sewol passenger ferry. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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