SEOUL, South Korea, April 26 -- The Seoul High Court handed down prison terms Friday to the chairman of a department store that collapsed last year, as well as to a local official who accepted bribes to approve structural changes that led to the fatal tragedy. The Sampoong department store in southern Seoul collapsed last year, killing over 500 staff and shoppers.
On Friday, Sampoong chairman Lee Joon was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. His son, Sampoong president Lee Han-sang, received seven years for the same charge. The heaviest sentence went to the head of the local ward for his role in allowing structural changes that contributed to the store's structural faults. Former Socho ward chief Hwang Chul-min was found guilty of accepting 12 million won ($15,385) from the senior Lee and sentenced to 10 years. Eight other ward employees were also sentenced with prison terms of between eight and 18 months. A safety check concluded the building was safe just two weeks before the June 29 disaster, in which five floors crashed into three basement floors. Some 922 people were injured and dozens of victims were never found in the rubble despite a search effort involving an estimated 3,000 volunteers. The posh store was just five years old. Government investigators revealed that Sampoong had carried out changes to the structure following its completion, including expansion of the basement parking area into which the entire middle section of the store collapsed.