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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former South Korean President Gets Death

SEOUL -- A South Korean court sentenced former president Chun Doo Hwan to death Monday on charges of masterminding a 1979 coup and an army massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators the following year.


Under Korean law, execution is carried out by hanging.


His presidential successor, Roh Tae-woo, was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for playing a supporting role.


Grim-faced and dressed in a blue cotton prison uniform, both were also convicted of massive corruption during their tenures that spanned 13 years and ended in 1993.


Many Koreans believe current President Kim Young-sam will offer the former generals a pardon.


Separately, nine business tycoons -- including the chairmen of Samsung and Daewoo -- were sentenced for bribing Roh. All got jail terms but the sentence on the Samsung chairman was suspended, meaning he will not serve time.


In all 13 former military colleagues of Chun and Roh were handed jail sentences of four to 10 years in what was dubbed the "trial of the century" that dug up many of the dirtiest secrets from South Korea's era of strongman rule.


Nine one-time aides and bodyguards received jail terms on various charges of bribery, including acting as bagmen for their presidential bosses.


The army massacre in the southern city of Kwangju killed about 200 civilians by official count and crushed democratic opposition to Chun's martial law rule.


Chun and Roh are expected to appeal against the sentences handed down by the Seoul District Criminal Court.


"I have a heavy heart," senior judge Kim Young-il told a news conference after the trial.


Yonhap news agency quoted presidential aides as saying it would be absurd to comment on the possibility of amnesty before the cases were reviewed by higher courts.


The investigation against Chun and Roh turned Korean business and politics upside down and was spurred by president Kim's campaign to "right the wrongs of history."


Women relatives of the Kwangju victims, dressed in traditional mourning white, attacked Roh's son, Jae-hun, as he left the court and shouted "Kill the murderer's son."


Earlier they cheered news of the death sentence, but some burst into tears when they heard Roh had escaped death.


The three-judge panel said Roh was spared in recognition of his role in gaining South Korea entry into the United Nations in 1991 and other diplomatic achievements.


Chun was fined 225.9 billion won ($276 million) and Roh 283.8 billion won, equal to the amount they were convicted of illegally pocketing. Roh had confessed to amassing a 500 billion won slush fund while in office. Chun was accused of building a secret 700 billion won fortune.


Chun's rise to power came "through illegal means which inflicted enormous damage on the people," according to the judges' verdict.


Referring to the massacre, they accused the defendants of "putting down popular resistance to clear the way for their rise to power."


Chun and Roh were defiant throughout the trial, defending the coup as necessary to prevent turmoil after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee.


Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, who heads South Korea's largest industrial conglomerate, was sentenced to two years in jail suspended for three years.


Chairman Kim Woo-choong of Daewoo, a top-four group, was given a two-year jail term without suspension.


Also jailed, for 2 1/2 years, was the head of Dong-Ah group, Choi Won-suk, whose company has construction projects in the Middle East and Libya.


All the businessmen have seven days to appeal during which time they will remain free. Their sentences sent shock waves through Seoul's corporate boardrooms, but analysts said the moguls were unlikely to spend time behind bars.


Putting them in jail would be too great a blow for an economy dominated by family-owned conglomerates, some run almost single-handedly by aging patriarchs, the analysts said.


"I believe the president will pardon them," said Dongbang Peregrine's head of research Rhee Namuh. "They represent too big a part of the economy."


Ordinary Koreans reacted to the former presidents' sentences with a mixture of relief and anger.


"I'm very ashamed to live in this country where a former president is sentenced to death and imprisoned," said Lee Jong-im, 37, a housewife and mother of two children. "I don't know how to teach our children in the future."