Sentences Lower for the Wealthier in Korea – According to Recent Study

The Korea Herald reported on an interesting study regarding sentencing differentials between, inter alia, those that embezzled lower sums of money to those that embezzled greater sums of money.   The study was commissioned by the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office.  I have not taken a look at the study, but will in the near future.

The impression by many, in Korea, is that the most noteworthy cases of embezzlement and bribery concerning substantial amounts of money (often presidents, chairman of conglomerates and their family), normally, receive lighter sentences than those that are involved in less noteworthy crimes.  The study seems to substantiate this belief.

However, again, I have never read the finding of the study. 

The Korea Herald notes, in part, that: 

“The courtroom should be the last place where money talks. Many Koreans, however, remain skeptical about whether this saying applies to the local judicial system as they have seen some rich and influential people receive relatively lenient punishments for their crimes.

Their skepticism of judicial equality was probably deepened by a recent report indicating that judges here have made some unequal rulings on white collar crimes such as embezzlement and bribery. The report released by a research team at a local university last week cited specific data suggesting that the larger the amount of money involved, the more clemency judges tend to show to persons accused of misappropriation or bribery.

Over the 2011-13 period, 3,720 defendants charged with embezzlement and breach of trust were sentenced at courts of first instance across the country. More than 91 percent of the sentences were made within the scope of penalty assessment standards set by the Supreme Court.

But adherence to the standards was in inverse proportion to the scale of embezzlement as judges tended in more severe cases to make rulings that fell below sentencing guidelines. The compliance rate was as high as 98.4 percent for embezzlement of less than 100 million won ($90,800). But the figure declined to 68.5 percent and 41.7 percent for cases involving sums between 5 billion won and 30 billion won and above 30 billion won, respectively.

A similar tendency was found in rulings on bribery cases. More than 96 percent of sentences for those accused of giving or taking less than 10 million won in bribes adhered to the guidelines but the rate fell to 25 percent when the amount was between 50 million won and 100 million won.

Such findings reinforced the public perception that local courts are likely to become more compassionate when dealing with larger-scale white collar crimes. Judges should depart from this tendency, which deepens distrust in the judicial system and hampers efforts to eradicate corrupt practices pervading our society. Sentencing guidelines should be applied more strictly to embezzlement and bribery cases involving larger amounts of money. “

The complete article may be found at: Compassionate Ruling.
Sean Hayes may be contacted at:

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the first non-Korean attorney to have worked for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty. Sean is ranked, for Korea, as one of only two non-Korean lawyers as a Top Attorney by AsiaLaw.

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