S. Korean Newspaper Owner Convicted

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(AP) A court on Monday convicted the owner of South Korea’s largest newspaper of evading millions of dollars in taxes and embezzling company funds from 1995 to 2000. The publisher was sentenced to three years in prison.

A spokesman for the daily Chosun Ilbo, one of 23 media outlets accused by prosecutors of evading taxes, said the case was part of an effort by President Kim Dae-jung’s government to muzzle media critics. The newspaper said it would appeal the conviction.

The Seoul District Court ordered Bang Sang-hoon, Chosun‘s president and publisher, to pay about $4.6 million in fines, the same amount he was accused of evading in taxes.

The court also convicted senior Chosun manager Bang Gye-sung in the case and gave him a suspended 18-month prison term. The two Bangs are unrelated.

Senior judge Oh Se-rip also ordered the newspaper to pay a fine of about $416,000.

The prosecution had sought a seven-year term plus a $1.08 million fine for the Chosun publisher, who also serves as a vice president of the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

Chosun said it will appeal the ruling.

“We can’t accept it. The tax evasion charges were politically motivated to silence a critical press,” said Song Hee-young, a secretary to the paper’s publisher.

Bang Sang-hoon and two other prominent newspaper publishers were arrested and indicted in August last year following a government tax probe that touched off a debate over whether the government was trying to stifle criticism in the media.

The other two publishers are Kim Byung-kwan, a co-owner of Dong-A Ilbo, and Cho Hee-joon, the controlling shareholder of Kookmin Ilbo. Bang and the other two publishers were released on bail late last year.

Twenty-three media organizations were accused of evading taxes totaling $339 million between 1995 and 2000. Nine other newspaper owners and executives were indicted without arrest.

The government says newspapers should be held financially accountable like any other company.

President Kim Dae-jung has been at odds with the nation’s major newspapers, which have questioned his handling of the economy and corporate reform. They also have accused the government of making too many concessions in an effort to improve ties with North Korea.

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