Fine but no jail time in SSRT bribery case

By FRANKLIN FISHER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 1, 2008

SUWON, South Korea — The South Korean businessman accused of bribing two AAFES officials in connection with a lucrative Internet contract was sentenced Wednesday to pay a fine.

His company, SSRT, also was fined.

Jeong Gi-hwan must pay 10 million won (about $10,597) and SSRT, also known as Samsung Rental Corp. Ltd., was fined 20 million won (about $21,194).

Judge Kim Mi-ri imposed the sentence in Suwon District Court, saying a fine was sufficient penalty in part because Jeong’s bribery case has left him with scant prospect of gaining future business with the U.S. military.

Wednesday’s sentencing brings to a close a protracted bribery trial in which Jeong stood accused of paying tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to former Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials Clifton W. Choy and H. Lee Holloway.

South Korean authorities arrested Jeong in September 2006 in connection with SSRT’s contract to provide home Internet and phone service to customers on U.S. military installations on the peninsula.

They accused him of paying Choy $100,000 to help win the contract and of later paying Holloway $68,000 to shield the company from trouble with AAFES over rising customer complaints about alleged price gouging and poor service.

That contract has since been transferred to LG Dacom through a process used when a company can no longer fulfill the terms of its contract.

In a Jan. 11 court session, prosecutor Jang Hye-young sought a sentence of 18 months in prison and a 100 million won fine.

Kim told Jeong she had decided to limit his sentence to a fine because his English-speaking ability was limited and he had to rely heavily on one English-speaking SSRT executive. That executive’s actions had played a major role in the situation that led to Jeong being prosecuted, the judge said.

Moreover, she said, she believed Jeong already has incurred a penalty in the form of lost chances of future business with the U.S. military.

Jeong stood before the judge wearing a dark gray suit, white shirt, and purple-and-green striped tie, his hands held in front of him. Barely one minute elapsed from the time the judge called Jeong’s name to the time she finished pronouncing sentence. Jeong gave a short, brisk bow and exited the courtroom.

U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents last year completed separate investigations on Choy and Holloway and have forwarded their findings to federal prosecutors, who will weigh what further action, if any, may be warranted.

The alleged bribes were in cash plus paid entertainment at South Korean restaurants, bars and other venues, according to South Korean and U.S. law enforcement authorities, and witness testimony during Jeong’s trial.

Choy and Holloway have declined to be interviewed by Stars and Stripes.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.