Supreme Court of Korea Upholds Former President’s 17-Year Term of Imprisonment

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Moshiuzzaman holds a 2:1 LL.B degree from BPP University (UK). He is currently pursuing the CFA chartership and working as an independent legal researcher at the American Society of International Law (ASIL)

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The Supreme Court of Korea upheld the decision of the Seoul Central District Court which sentenced former president Lee Myung Bak to 17-years in prison over corruption charges.

Lee Myung Bak – the Story So Far

Lee Myung Bak was the former President of the Republic of South Korea from 2008 to 2013. Before joining politics, Bak was an established businessman having served as the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, as well as serving the position of Mayor of Seoul. 

Following the end of his term, federal investigators began an inquiry into Bak’s financials. In late 2013, investigators’ reports established Bak and his family, including his older brother Lee Sang-Deuk, to have had taken bribes while abusing the office of the President. Sang-Deuk, who was also accused of having taken more than USD 0.5 million from the SLS Group, was later investigated and tried over bribery charges relating to the four Major River Projects. Sang-Deuk served 18-month imprisonment over these charges. 

In March 2018, Bak was arrested for allegedly receiving USD 10 million worth of bribes and another USD 33 million worth of illicit money in a separate hidden bank account. This included a $6 million bribe from Samsung in exchange for a presidential pardon over its’ chairman, Lee Kun-hee, who was sentenced to prison over stock fraud and tax evasion charges. It is also reported that bribes were also received by Sang-Deuk, under the brothers’ joint car-parts manufacturing business. Moreover, he was also believed to have embezzled more than USD 700,000 worth of government allocated budget reserved for Seoul’s intelligence agency. 

Bak was eventually indicted over these charges in late 2018, by the Seoul Central District Court. 

The Court held that Bak was guilty of abuse of power and embezzlement, amongst other charges, and sentenced him to 15-years imprisonment. The Court also ordered Bak to pay USD 20.3 million in total for the return of the bribe funds and the fines imposed upon it. Bak was also asked to repay another USD 4.6 million from the joint car-parts manufacturing business, which also received illicit funding. However, in late February 2020, the Seoul High Court extended the original 15-years imprisonment by two years stating that Bak had accepted larger sums of bribes than originally believed. This was appealed to the Supreme Court of Korea.

The Supreme Court of Korea’s Judgment

The Supreme Court began its judgment by stating that, there was no error in the decision reached by the Seoul Central District Court, in sentencing Bak to 15-years in prison for embezzlement and bribery. Presiding Judge Park Sang-ok stated that, as per Art. 84 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, the President could not be charged with a criminal offense during his tenure, unless it is a charge for insurrection or treason. As neither of the two charges was pressed against Bak, his crimes were suspended from trial till the end of his tenure in 2013. 

The Court noted the outline of the case. On the 6th of May 2019, the Seowool High Court granted bail to Bak, who was in the custody of the police at the time. On the 19th of February 2020, the bail was retracted, and an arrest warrant was re-issued against Bak. He was arrested and taken into custody once again. On the 25th of February 2020, Bak’s attorney appealed for the suspension of the arrest in the Seoul High Court. When denied the requested remedy, Bak’s legal team appealed the matter to the Supreme Court directly.

The Court stated the law associated with the appeal. It noted that under Art. 415 of the Criminal Procedure Act, an appeal to the Supreme Court coming from the court of appeals or the High Court can only be initiated, if a violation of the Constitution/Act of Parliament/Ordinance/Regulation was in question. On this account, nothing of that sort had taken place. In conclusion, the Court held that, whoever so violates the constitution of the republic, or its laws and orders, are by the power vested in the Court, due to be punished by the judiciary. As such, the Court did not find any fault in the lower Court’s ruling of finding Bak guilty of bribery and embezzlement and thus upheld this decision.

To read the Order, click here. 


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