The sprawling corruption scandal that rocked South Korea

Updated 5:19 AM EDT, Fri August 25, 2017
Lee Jae-yong (front R), vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives for his trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on August 7, 2017.
South Korean prosecutors on August 7 demanded the heir to the Samsung empire be jailed for 12 years over his role in the corruption scandal that brought down the country's last president. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ahn Young-joon        (Photo credit should read AHN YOUNG-JOON/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: AHN YOUNG-JOON/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Lee Jae-yong (front R), vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives for his trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on August 7, 2017. South Korean prosecutors on August 7 demanded the heir to the Samsung empire be jailed for 12 years over his role in the corruption scandal that brought down the country's last president. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ahn Young-joon (Photo credit should read AHN YOUNG-JOON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Samsung chief jailed for five years on corruption charges

Former President Park adviser Choi jailed in June

(CNN) —  

It all started with a tablet computer.

A scandal which has re-shaped South Korean politics and rocked the country’s elite – overshadowing even North Korean missile threats – began when reporters at CNN affiliate JTBC found a computer belonging to Choi Soon-sil late last year.

On it they found evidence that Choi, a close friend and unofficial adviser of then-South Korean President Park Geun-hye, had been receiving secret documents and intervening in state affairs.

On Friday, the resulting scandal claimed its latest scalp, as a court jailed Lee Jae-yong, the heir to mega-conglomerate Samsung, for five years on bribery and corruption charges.

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Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (R) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (L) pose for a performance during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
 / AFP / JUNG YEON-JE        (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (R) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (L) pose for a performance during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016. South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations. / AFP / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Park’s relationship with Choi and her father Choi Tae-min has long been controversial in Korea.

Choi-gate

The elder Choi first became close with Park following the death of her mother at the hands of a North Korean assassin in 1974, while Park’s father, dictator Park Chung-hee, was president.

Choi founded the Eternal Life Church, declared himself a modern day Buddha and called for all people to strive for eternal life.

A confidential 2007 US diplomatic cable, published by Wikileaks, referenced rumors that Choi had “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.”

After her father died in 1994 at age 82, Choi Soon-sil succeeded him as church leader and spiritual mentor to Park, as the former first daughter became a political force of her own.

“The family had an extraordinary influence over Park Geun-hye for essentially her entire adult life,” David Kang, a Korea expert at the University of Southern California, told CNN last year.

Though she never held an official position, revelations showed that Choi Soon-sil was given advance access to presidential speeches and other documents.

In June, a Seoul court sentenced Choi to three years in prison for obstruction of duty by using her influence to solicit academic favors for her daughter from Ewha Womans University. Two university officials were also sentenced to between 18 and 24 months in prison.