A former chief of the national tax agency was cleared on Friday of charges that he offered an expensive painting to his boss while he tried to secure the top post before taking the helm.
The Seoul Central District Court found former National Tax Service chief Han Sang-yool not guilty of bribing Jeon Goon-pyo with an abstract painting worth some 15 million won (US$13,537).
Han had been indicted on charges that he, while serving as the No. 2 at the tax agency, gave the artwork in 2007 to Jeon, then the tax chief, in a bid to secure the top position after Jeon stepped down.
Charges against Han also included taking nearly 70 million won in unearned consultancy fees from three alcohol makers, previously under supervision of the tax authority, after twisting their arms to finance his exile in the U.S. after the painting transaction and other bribe taking accusations were revealed by the media.
After taking office as the tax chief in 2007, Han resigned in early 2009 as the accusations surfaced and escaped to the U.S. before returning home earlier this year.
Dismissing charges raised against Han, Judge Lee Won-bum said the former tax chief had no motive to grease Jeon's palm since, given circumstances, the defendant had been already set to take the helm without the bribery.
The provision of the painting, which Han admitted was given to the boss through Han's wife, cannot be deemed bribery for the purpose of promotion, the judge noted.
The court also cleared Han of bribe-taking charges, citing insufficient evidence behind Han's role in signing the consultancy contracts with the alcohol makers.
Prosecutors said they plan to appeal the decision.
The former tax chief said, "I am still very ashamed" as he left the court after the not-guilty trial.
The latest court case involving the former tax agency head marks still rampant corruption and bribes around the authority.
Jeon, the tax head before Han, was convicted of taking bribes while in office in 2006 from a regional tax office chief who asked a favor in selecting the next chief. (Yonhap News)