December 27, 1995
Web posted at: 8:23 a.m. EST (1323 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- The two men found responsible for Korea's worst peacetime disaster, the collapse of a South Korean department store, were sentenced Wednesday in Seoul.
Lee Joon, 73, owner of the Sampoong Department Store, sat motionless and expressionless when he was found guilty of criminal negligence, for which he faces 10 and a half years in prison. His son, Lee Han-Sang, 42, the store's president, faces seven years for the same charge.
There were more than 1,500 people in the luxury department store when it collapsed in June. More than 500 people were killed, many instantly. Others were trapped beneath heavy debris. The collapse was primarily blamed on shoddy construction and corruption.
The defendants' relatives wept softly as the sentences were read. Throughout the trial prosecutors painted a chilling picture of a store owner more concerned with maximizing profits than customer safety, and of city officials willing to take bribes in exchange for allowing illegal design and construction. "Therefore, they are responsible for the collapse," said the head of a three-judge panel before he read the sentences.
The court also sentenced Lee Choong-Woo, a former chief administrator of the upscale residential area where the store was located, to three years in jail on bribery charges. The panel sentenced 23 others to jail time and fines in connection with the disaster.
The Seoul city government has offered compensation of up to 200 million won ($257,400) to relatives of each of the dead.
As a result of the disaster, public criticism has erupted over the human cost of South Korea's breakneck economic growth.
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