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Plea bargaining behind the scenes

Posted December. 15, 2017 07:57,   

Updated December. 15, 2017 08:52


Park Won-oh, a former executive at the Korea Equestrian Federation and a close aide to Choi Soon-shil, was exempt from punishment despite playing a critical role in inducing financial support from Korean conglomerates for Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, an equestrian. Some view that he opted for plea bargaining, agreeing to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecution. According to Korean law, a defendant under suspicion is indicted by prosecutors. If the legal authorities do not press charges, it is regarded as dereliction of duty.

Despite the arrest of several former heads of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on charges of embezzlement, former NIS senior official Lee Hun-soo, who was in charge of budgeting, was exempt. Jang Si-ho, niece of Choi Soon-shil, had received an initial sentence of one and a half years in prison without detention on charges of establishing of the Korea Winter Sports Elite Center, which channeled bribed money from businesses. However, the court recently sentenced her to one and a half years in prison. Heavy penalty by the court can be seen as a warning to plea bargaining.

Some 90 percent of criminal cases in the United States are concluded by plea bargain, where the punishment is reduced in concession of the defendant pleading guilty. Some say that plea bargain is the love child of the jury system. Plea bargaining has become more preval‎ent, given that trial by jury take up a great amount of time and cases grow increasingly complicated. But it should be noted that plea bargaining is admitted after confirm‎ing that defendant’s intention was voluntary and fact-based. In this process, criminal facts are determined, recognized as guilty by the court or not to be prosecuted.

We should take notice of the fact that professors are the only ones arrested and punished for the illegal admission of Chung Yoo-ra to Ewha Womans’ University. Vice Minister Kim Jong of Culture, Sports and Tourism was not indicted on such charges, despite playing a key role in the admission process. Samsung Group recently called into question the credibility of Kim’s statement on Samsung in the trial of appeal. Perhaps such questions are raised because plea bargaining is usually carried out behind the scenes and is absence of the process of determining whether it is fact-based. If Jang, who has a child, and Lee, whose daughter is to be married, have traded off in lieu of arrest, it is questionable whether their intentions to “cooperate” were voluntary.