A Seoul court on Thursday sentenced South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo to 18 months in prison for taking bribes from a deceased businessman and ordered him to pay 100 million won ($91,600) in forfeiture.
Hong, 61, was accused of receiving 100 million won in political funds from Sung Woan-jong, the late chairman of local construction firm Kaengnam Enterprises, in 2011.
Yoon Seung-mo, who delivered the money to Hong on behalf of Sung, was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for a year.
South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo (Yonhap)
The Seoul Central District Court said in the ruling that Hong’s crime is not light considering the governor has seriously damaged public trust, democracy and the rule of law by accepting illegal political funds.
“Testimonies of those involved in the case correspond to Sung’s claims. Yoon has given consistent testimonies from the investigation to the court hearing (about delivering the money to Hong),” the court said.
The court decided not to put Hong behind bars immediately, citing his current status as a governor.
The veteran politician was indicted in July last year for violating the Political Fund Act as part of the prosecution’s investigation into a high-profile graft scandal involving President Park Geun-hye’s top aides.
The scandal surfaced after Sung took his life in April 2015 with a handwritten note in his pocket. It listed eight names of politicians, including Hong and ex-Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, and the bribe sums he claimed to have handed over.
Hong, who has denied all the accusations, expressed discomfort over the verdict.
“I want to ask Sung Woan-jong why he framed me after giving money to other people. I feel like I was robbed,” Hong said as he stepped out of the courtroom. “I did not expect such a result at all. The judiciary accepted all the unconvincing claims. I will correct it at a higher court.”
Meanwhile, ex-Prime Minister Lee’s case is pending at an appeals court. The Seoul district court handed down an eight-month prison term for Lee, suspended for two years, on charges of accepting illicit political funds.
The sentencing trial for Lee is scheduled for Sept. 22.
By Ock Hyun-ju(firstname.lastname@example.org)