Ex-Park aide, culture minister guilty for artist blacklist

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court on Thursday sentenced the former presidential chief of staff and the former culture minister to prison for blacklisting thousands of artists and denying them state support because they were believed to be unfriendly to ousted President Park Geun-hye.

They are the latest convictions in the corruption scandal surrounding Park, who is jailed and being tried on bribery and other criminal charges.

The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Park's former aide, Kim Ki-choon, to three years behind bars and former Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok to two years for abuse of authority and other charges.

The court sentenced five other former presidential and government officials to shorter or suspended prison terms in the case.

Following months of massive protests by millions and an impeachment vote in December, Park was formally removed from office and arrested in March over allegations she colluded with a friend to take tens of millions of dollars from the country's largest companies through bribes and extortion.

Park was indicted in April on bribery and other charges. Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, was sentenced to three years in prison in June for using her presidential ties to unlawfully get her daughter into a prestigious Seoul university. Choi is being tried separately over more serious charges linked to the bribery and extortion allegations.

Prosecutors expanded their investigation to include the blacklisting allegations late last year following a complaint submitted by a group of artists. Prosecutors later said about 9,000 artists were on the presidential blacklist, which reportedly included writers, poets, actors, musicians, painters, and film and theater directors.

The Seoul court agreed with prosecutors that many of the blacklisted artists were unjustly excluded from government funding or participating in government-backed culture projects.

Kim, who served as Park's chief of staff between 2013 and 2015, was found guilty of orchestrating the creation of the blacklist and ordering the Culture Ministry to use the list to deny the artists state support.

In addition to the blacklist, former Culture Minister Kim was also found guilty of pressuring a senior ministry official to resign for angering Park. The official, who was reinstated by new President Moon Jae-in, had submitted a report to the presidential Blue House in 2013 that was critical of Choi, who had disputed the results of a domestic equestrian competition in which her daughter finished second.

Before she was ousted from office, Park was criticized for a heavy-handed leadership style that critics said caused setbacks in freedom of speech.

Artists complained about censorship. Most notably, organizers of the Busan International Film Festival in 2014 clashed with the city's mayor, who unsuccessfully tried to block a documentary on a ferry sinking earlier that year that killed more than 300 people, a disaster partially blamed on government incompetence and corruption.

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