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Court Toughens White-Collar Penalties

Posted February. 28, 2006 02:59,   


A white-collar defendant received a 10 million won bribe. How will he or she be punished?

If the Changwon District Court tries the defendant, he or she will probably be sentenced to about two years in prison. With luck, the defendant might be sentenced to probation, but will never receive a conditional release.

For the first time in Korea, the Changwon District Court created sentencing guidelines yesterday that strengthen punishments for white-collar crimes committed by government officials and corporation workers. It will also be the first court in Korea to implement them.

It is predicted that the number of white-collar crimes punished with a slap on the wrist, such as probation or conditional release, citing first-time offenses, contributions to society, or regret for the offense committed, will be reduced.

With the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Lee Yong-hun strongly criticizing probation sentences to Doosan Group slush-fund case defendants, and Minister of Justice Chun Jung-bae pointing out that the court is too lenient on white-collar crimes, the newly established sentencing guidelines will likely affect other district courts.

The Changwon District Court held a meeting with about 70 of its judges chaired by chief justice Kim Jong-dae yesterday morning and announced “White Collar Crime Sentencing Guidelines” created by the Criminal Working Level Improvement Team led by Justice Moon Hyung-bae. These guidelines will be used in sentencing.

The goal of the sentencing guidelines are to eliminate slaps on the wrist to white-collar offenses by sentencing actual prison time rather than probation and conditional releases, as well as maintaining similar sentences on similar crimes.

The guidelines use the amount of money received or embezzled to determine minimum prison times in cases of bribery, embezzlement and misappropriation in office, malfeasance in office where money can be a measuring guide, as well as conditions that will aggravate or lighten the sentence.

But in bribery cases, if an organization or corporation with strong lobbying powers bribes someone in a “lower” position, or uses a government official’s weakness, then the defendant who gave the bribe will also serve time in jail.

In addition, defendants who violate unfair competition prevention laws and business secret protection laws, even if they are first-time offenders, will be sentenced to prison as well as a fine if their crimes resulted in irreversible damage to their corporation and country.

Chief Justice Kim said, “Light, merciful sentences on white-collar criminals were the main reason people lost faith in the judicial system. Sentencing guidelines are an attempt to hand out universally valid sentences the people will agree to.”

Jeong-Hoon Kang manman@donga.com verso@donga.com