Choi Soon-sil, the friend of disgraced former South Korean leader Park Geun-hye, was handed the sentence after being convicted of bribery in the first of a string of criminal cases against her.

Choi is being tried alongside her former confidante, impeached president Park Geun-hye.
Choi is being tried alongside her former confidante, impeached president Park Geun-hye. (TRT World and Agencies)

The friend of former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, who was at the centre of an influence-peddling scandal that rocked the country's business and political elite, has been sentenced to three years in prison, Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday.

The court decision was the first ruling against Choi Soon-sil, a long-time confidante of the ousted South Korean leader, who has been arrested and is being held in jail over the corruption scandal that ended her administration.

Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year prison term for Choi on charges of obstruction of business and links to Park in order to force a university to give her daughter preferential treatment.

In the sentencing ruling cited by Yonhap, the Seoul Central District Court said it "accepts the evidence that Choi conspired with school officials to give her daughter favours."

"Choi violated laws and proper procedures to benefit her daughter," the court said.

Choi also faces separate charges, which have yet to be heard, of extortion, abuse of power and attempted fraud to extort bribes from business conglomerates. She and Park have denied all charges against them.

Mothers and daughters

Prosecutors accused Choi of facilitating her daughter's admission to the prestigious Ewha Women's University and conspiring with the faculty there to have her daughter's academic records altered despite poor class attendance and plagiarised reports.

The court also sentenced the president of the university to two years in prison, Yonhap reported.

Choi's 20-year-old daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, an Asian Games equestrian gold medallist, fled to Europe last year. She returned to South Korea earlier this month and claimed that she wanted to clear up any misunderstandings.

Her entrance to the university and her high school diploma were cancelled after authorities found her high school attendance and test grades had been forged.

Prosecutors have twice sought an arrest warrant for Chung to detain her over the corruption scandal, alleging that Samsung Electronics had provided her with financial assistance to sponsor her equestrian training.

All roads lead to Samsung

Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, who has also been arrested and is currently on trial, has denied asking for policy favours when he met Park, arguing that Samsung was a victim of blackmail by the ex-president and Choi.

Choi – dubbed a "female Rasputin" by the local media – wielded huge influence over the then-president and was a key figure in the influence-peddling scandal that sparked huge street protests that led to Park's ousting.

Park allegedly leaked confidential documents to her friend and allowed her to meddle in state affairs – including the appointments of senior officials.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies