Were Lotte, Samsung Chiefs Judged by Different Standards?

中央日報
Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin leaves the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Tuesday.

The Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday found Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin guilty of bribery for a donation to the same bogus foundation over which an appeals court cleared Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong last week.

The appeals court ruled that Lee was innocent of bribery but had simply been the victim of extortion by ex-President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

Shin was found guilty of "tacit bribery" in donating just W7 billion to Choi's K-Sports foundation in return for winning duty-free shop licenses. That is the same charge of which the appeals court cleared Lee last month, saying it was not proven that the much larger sums Samsung paid into Choi's two bogus foundations were given in return for easing his succession to the conglomerate's leadership.

But in Shin's case, the court accepted that Lotte faced the IPO of Lotte Hotel at the time the donations were made and that Shin, who was embroiled in an ugly spat with his father and brother, needed to consolidate his control over the business empire by winning the duty-free-shop licenses.

The difference to Lee's case was that the court accepted that Shin made various attempts to contact Cheong Wa Dae at the time, whereas it could not be proven that Lee ever solicited any favors from Park over his succession.

Although it was Park who first demanded the actual donation in a one-on-one meeting with Shin in March 2016, the court ruled that both Park and Shin were perfectly aware of the link between the donation and the license.

Former presidential secretary An Chong-bum testified that he first heard of the duty-free issue from Shin and reported the matter to Park. The verdict, in other words, turned on the degree of specificity in seeking favors from Park.

In Lee's case, the appeals court threw out the tacit bribery charge by saying, "There was no pending issue of transferring management control at Samsung." But in Lotte's case, winning the duty-free shop license was a fairly clear objective.

Shin may yet be cleared on appeal if a higher court regards the link as not proven.

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