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Former S. Korean Presidential Aide Sentenced to Prison for Role in Financial Scandal - 2003-12-12

A close aide of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung was sentenced Friday to a 12-year jail term in a financial scandal surrounding the inter-Korean summit held in 2000. The aide, Park Jie-won, was also fined $12 million.

The Seoul District Court found Park Jie-won guilty on all charges of bribery and abuse of power.

The presidential chief of staff under former South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung had been charged with arranging for one of the country's largest conglomerates, Hyundai, to transfer one-half billion dollars to North Korea just before the summit between the two Koreas three years ago.

Park was said to have participated in the transfer by arranging state bank loans to Hyundai, which the company then passed on to Pyongyang.

Critics of former President Kim say the money amounted to a bribe to the North Koreans to participate in the summit.

Park was separately charged with personally soliciting a bribe of more than $12 million from Hyundai.

In its ruling, the court said Park "misused his authority to ask for funds for personal gain." He was sentenced to a 12-year jail term and was fined $12 million.

The inter-Koreas summit, in which President Kim met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, won the South Korean leader a Nobel Peace Prize. But he now acknowledges that his government allowed Hyundai to give the half-billion dollars to the impoverished North days before the summit was held.

Critics say Mr. Kim "bought" the summit, but he defends the money transfer as a way of protecting South Korea's national interests and promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Six other people, including a former chief of intelligence, received suspended sentences earlier this year in relation to the summit scandal.