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Park aides face parliamentary hearing on influence-peddling scandal

Second hearing on scandal held without Choi Soon-sil and other key witnesses

The second day of the parliamentary inquiry into President Park Geun-hye’s scandal on Wednesday produced little new information about Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil who is accused of meddling in state affairs. 

Almost half of key witnesses were absent at the hearing, including Choi. Those who were in attendance spent most of their time denying allegations or claiming no knowledge or memory. 

Former chief presidential secreatry Kim Ki-choon testifies at a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Former chief presidential secreatry Kim Ki-choon testifies at a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Former Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon claimed no knowledge of any irregularities in the country’s highest office during the session, which was broadcast live on TV. 

“I am ashamed and sorry for not properly assisting the president and for failing to stop the country falling into this situation,” he said. 

Kim, who was the conservative president’s right-hand man for 16 months until February 2015, said he had never met Choi.   

Wednesday’s inquiry came just two days before a crucial parliamentary vote slated for Friday on whether or not to impeach the embattled President Park.

The former presidential aide asserted that he did not know what the president was doing inside the presidential residence on April 16, 2014, when the ferry Sewol sank in country’s southwestern waters. The accident left 295 dead and nine missing, most of them high school students on a school trip.

The related questions specifically referred to the recent set of reports that Park spent about 90 minutes having her hair done during her unexplained hours before appearing in public. Cheong Wa Dae admitted that hair designers visited Park, but claimed the hairdo took just 20 minutes.

The lawmakers grilled witnesses who are suspected of either using ties to the president and her confidante Choi to win business favors. 

Jang, the daughter of Choi’s older sister Choi Soon-deuk, is suspected of embezzlement by allegedly founding Korea Winter Sports Elite to make undue profits ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

“From what I know, the center received 600 million won ($510,000) from the Culture Ministry and 1.6 billion won from Samsung Group. They are used to foster student athletes,” she said.

Kim Jae-yeol, the president of Cheil Industries, who came to testify for the Samsung group said Samsung Electronics’ Global Marketing Group is in charge of making the decision to donate to the sports group. He added he was pressured by then Vice Culture Minister Kim Chong who was also present in the inquiry scene.

Jang is suspected of embezzling some 1.1 billion won ($940,000) from Samsung Group’s donation.

Choi’s other associate Cha, a TV commercial director dubbed “the crown prince” for his sweeping influence in cultural affairs, admitted to recommending his close affiliates Choi Kim Jong-deok and Kim Sang-ryul, as culture minister and senior presidential secretary for education and culture, respectively. 

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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