Disgraced S. Korean leader's friend Choi gets three years in jail

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Seoul (AFP)

The woman at the centre of South Korea's corruption scandal, Choi Soon-Sil, was handed a three year jail term Friday for bribery in the first of a string of criminal cases against her.

A long-time friend of South Korea's disgraced ex-president, Choi was found guilty of bribing professors to have her daughter admitted to Seoul's prestigious Ewha Woman's University and receive good grades, despite a poor attendance record.

"The court sentences the accused to three years in prison," the Seoul Central District Court said in a statement.

A former Ewha University dean received a two year jail term, a university employee got 18 months in prison, and a professor was handed a suspended sentence over the scandal, which provoked public outrage in education-obsessed South Korea.

Choi is also being tried alongside her former confidante, impeached president Park Geun-Hye, over claims they forced top companies including Samsung to "donate" tens of millions to foundations Choi controlled.

Choi could face decades in jail if convicted on the charges of extortion and abuse of power.

Samsung's 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.