Former director of Busan film fest convicted of fraud
A South Korean court on Wednesday convicted the former director of Asia’s top film festival of accounting fraud, in what critics have called a politically-motivated case that has damaged the event’s artistic independence.
Lee Yong-Kwan, who headed the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) until February this year, was given a suspended jail sentence for making fraudulent payments amounting to 27.5 million won (USD 24,200) to a firm that brokers sponsorship deals.
Three other current and former BIFF officials indicted on similar charges also received suspended jail terms.
The case was brought against Lee earlier this year as the prestigious annual festival was embroiled in a bitter row with state authorities over alleged political interference.
The dispute began in 2014 when the BIFF screened a controversial documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster, despite angry opposition by the mayor of the host city Busan. The film, ‘Diving Bell’, criticised Seoul’s botched rescue effort during the tragedy that killed more than 300 people, mostly
After it was shown, state funding for the 2015 BIFF was nearly halved and Lee, who was instrumental in getting the documentary screened, became the target of a series of probes by authorities.
Lee was forced to step down as BIFF director in February after the Busan mayor – then the chairman of the festival organising committee – refused to renew his contract.
According to the Yonhap news agency, Lee said he would appeal today’s verdict, which an umbrella group of South Korean filmmakers criticised as unfair. “We had expected the court to exonerate Lee given that the charges against him were evidently a political crackdown to tame the festival,” the group said in a joint statement.