The en banc of the Supreme Court sent back the case surrounding former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil to the High Court on the grounds of the High Court’s violation of a regulation under the Public Official Election Act, which stipulates that the bribery charges of elected public officials must be sentenced separately from other charges. In addition, the Supreme Court remanded to the original court the bribery charge, in which Samsung provided Choi with three riding horses, citing the reason that the disposition authority was transferred to Choi, regardless of the formal ownership, and hence the value of the horses must be included in the amount of bribe.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court did not judge that Samsung’s contributions of the highest amounts given to the Mi-R Foundation and K-Sports Foundation were bribes as it is hard to assume that the contributions were directly received by the former president and Choi. What’s notable is that the Supreme Court determined that the charge of coercion, which was acknowledged at both the first and second trials, does not apply here as there was no threat made. The coercion against businesses to make contributions to the Mi-R Foundation and K-Sports Foundation was one of the biggest reasons calling for former President Park’s impeachment. Now denied by the Supreme Court, it is expected to cause controversies.
The Supreme Court acknowledged a bribery charge for Samsung’s contribution of 1.6 billion won to the Winter Sports Elite Center for improper solicitation to address the issue of management succession. This contribution is a third-party bribe received by the Winter Sports Elite Center, which requires the premise of improper solicitation, unlike the riding horses offered to Choi, which is considered to be the bribes directly received by the former president. The Supreme Court said the fact that there was the issue of management succession at a mega-company like Samsung constitutes improper solicitation as solicitation was implied.
If Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong receives a sentence as intended by the Supreme Court, the amount of bribes and embezzlement he is charged with will increase to 8.6 billion won. The vice chairman who had been imprisoned during the investigation stage was later released as 3.6 billion won worth of bribery and embezzlement charges were acknowledged. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision on the three riding horses and the contribution to the Winter Sports Elite Center as bribes, they are passive bribes under the pressure of political power, rather than active bribes by a business to sway the authority. The decisions on Lee’s sentencing and probation should be made in consideration of this factor. For former President Park and Choi, their number of charges will decrease as the coercion charge regarding the Mi-R Foundation and K-Sports Foundation was dismissed but the overall sentence will increase due to the higher bribe amount received and the addition of a separate bribe charge.
Although the exact sentences for the three involved in the scandal have not been confirmed yet, the outline of the judicial judgments on the key issues of the Choi Soon-sil scandal has become clear. “We shall not repeat our past wrongdoings and focus on our inherent roles as a business,” said Samsung right after the Supreme Court’s decisions came out. Now, trials for the remanded case must be finalized as soon as possible based on the principle of speedy trial to open the discussions surrounding the former president’s potential pardon. Now, the controversies surrounding the influence peddling scandal will have to be left in the hands of future judgment.