Prosecutor acquitted in case that sparked graft bill

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Prosecutor acquitted in case that sparked graft bill

A prosecutor at the center of the corruption case that first triggered discussion of the anti-graft bill passed last week in parliament was acquitted on Thursday by the Supreme Court.

The 40-year-old ex-prosecutor, surnamed Lee, was indicted in November 2011 for accepting money and valuables worth 55 million won ($49,000), including a leased Mercedes-Benz, from a lawyer with whom she had an affair. She was suspected to have wielded influence in exchange in a lawsuit waged in September 2010 by the lawyer, surnamed Choi, 53, against his former business partner.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Busan High Court’s previous ruling that the money and valuables had nothing to do with Choi’s lawsuit and that the gifts had been given to Lee as a sign of his affections.

“It is hard to prove that the money and valuables were in return for Lee’s favor because Choi asked for her favor two years and seven months after he gave her the Mercedes-Benz and other valuables,” a Supreme Court justice said.

“The money and goods were merely a financial support for Lee due to their relationship, and Choi gave her the car because Lee had requested it as a promise that Choi wouldn’t meet with any other woman.”

The original verdict found that the gifts from Choi were meant as bribes despite the fact that he presented them to Lee before asking for her assistance.

At the time, Lee was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay 44 million won in additional charges.

Their relationship began in 2007 when Lee worked with Choi as a lawyer. Afterward, Choi leased an apartment for Lee and lavished her with expensive gifts, even leasing a Mercedes-Benz for her in 2009.

He also allowed her to use the credit card of the law firm for which he was working.

Lee’s case subsequently became an example for lawmakers in discussing an anti-corruption bill, which after being tabled for years was finally passed last week.

The proposal was first suggested in June 2011 by Kim Young-ran, who was then the chairwoman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

Lawmakers announced in August 2012 that they would implement the law, whose intent was to punish government employees for accepting money or requests regardless of whether strings were attached. Under current criminal law, only those who have accepted bribes for favors or ones related to their responsibilities are punished.

In 2011, Choi was convicted for accepting 10 million won from another woman that he was dating for a lawsuit in which she was involved, as well as detaining and abusing her after she told him she wanted to break up. He was disbarred and sentenced to 10 months in prison with two years of probation.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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