SEOUL, Aug. 26 -- A South Korean court sentenced former President Chun Doo-hwan to death and another former president, Roh Tae- woo, to 22 1/2 years in prison in connection with a 1979 coup and a violent 1980 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. A three-judge panel handed down the sentences Monday in an insurrection and treason trial involving the two former leaders. Chun, who was president from 1980 to 1988, and his successor, Roh Tae-woo, president from 1988 to 1993, were sentenced along with 14 former military and government officials. It was the first trial in South Korean history to involve former presidents. South Koreans have waited 16 years to see Chun face trial for the violent crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Kwangju, in which Army troops opened fire on civilian demonstrators, killing 200 by official count, and wounding an estimated 1,800. Prosecutors argued that Chun, then an army major general, led the crackdown as part of strong-arm tactics he used to arrest military and government leaders in order to seize the presidency. They said Roh and the 14 co-defendants played key supporting roles, including organizing troops to enforce martial law in 1980. Defense attorneys argued that Chun and his co-defendants seized military power, sensing a dangerous power vacuum in the wake of the October 1979 assassination of President Park Chung-hee. Chun said the assassination left the country vulnerable to North Korean infiltration and claimed he arranged the arrest of the chief of the army because he believed he played a role in the slaying.
Defense attorneys eventually quit the case in protest and were replaced by court-appointed lawyers, after accusing the prosecution of insufficient evidence to indicate Chun either planned to seize power or gave shoot-to-kill orders on the streets of Kwangju. Presiding Judge Kim Young-il and assistant judges Kim Yong-sup and Hwang Sang-il will also announce verdicts and sentences for nine former government officials and nine business leaders charged with bribery linked to massive slush funds created by Chun and Roh. Chun has been charged with bribery for accepting $262.97 million (215.9 billion won) and Roh faces charges stemming from $345.80 million (283.9 billion won) he allegedly accepted during his 1988-1993 presidency. Leading business figures from South Korea's largest conglomerates are among the bribery co-defendants and include Lee Kun-hee, chairman of the Samsung Group; Kim Woo-choong, chairman of the Daewoo Group; and Choi Won-suk, Dong-ah Group chairman. All have denied bribery, claiming that the hundreds of millions of dollars given to Roh were customary donations given to past authoritarian, military-backed governments. Last November, Roh was arrested on bribery charges and soon afterward President Kim Young-sam ordered legislation allowing prosecutors to re- open the Kwangju massacre investigation. South Korea has no jury system, and judges pronounce both verdicts and sentences at the same time.