Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye’s longtime friend at the center of an influence-peddling and corruption scandal, appeared at court Monday for her first hearing and denied all the charges against her.
Arguing that she had never “colluded” with the impeached President Park and ex-presidential officials to extort money from conglomerates, Choi vowed to fight back against 11 accounts raised against her during the preparatory hearing at the Seoul Central District Court.
It was the first public appearance of Choi, who has been in custody, since she appeared for questioning by the prosecution in late October. She was indicted on charges of abuse of authority, extortion and attempted fraud in late November.
(Park Hae-mook/ The Korea Herald)
Choi, who said publicly earlier she had committed a sin that deserves death, signaled that she would clarify herself and fight back against charges throughout the upcoming trials.
“When I first came back from Germany, I was ready to abide by any punishment, but now that I have faced interrogations and (false) charges, I only feel that I should clarify myself,” she mumbled in front of some 150 spectators in the courtroom.
“I am sorry for causing trouble. I will sincerely go through the trial,” she said.
Choi was escorted into the courtroom by a female guard and sat next to her lawyer. She appeared in a white prison uniform and black-framed glasses, looking nervous and mostly keeping her head down.
Choi, who has neither government post nor policy background, is suspected of colluding with President Park and an ex-presidential aide An Chong-bum to coerce donations from conglomerates for the Mir and K-Sports foundations which she controlled for her personal gains. .
“Eight of the allegations raised by the prosecution are that she colluded with the president,” Choi’s lawyer Lee Kyung-jae said. “As she did not collude with the president, she cannot be found guilty of the charges.”
Choi Soon-sil, accused of being involved in an influence-peddling scandal, enters a court room in Seoul on Monday. (Park Hae-mook/ The Korea Herald)
She is also suspected of manipulating state affairs behind the scenes, exerting influence over the culture, education and sports sectors, getting her daughter accepted into a prestigious university and monopolizing lucrative state-led projects for her paper companies.
At the first pretrial hearing for Choi, An and another ex-Presidential Secretary Jeong Ho-seong, only Choi turned up at court. Choi had also largely been anticipated not to show up as she has refused to attend the parliamentary hearings investigating the scandal.
It is not mandatory for defendants to attend the pretrial hearings during which the prosecution and lawyers for the defendants review the charges, the list of evidence and set the trial schedule.
Both An and Jeong claimed that Park was the one who gave them orders to commit wrongdoings including forcing conglomerates to make donations and the leaking of presidential documents.
An’s lawyer denied all the charges including abuse of authority and extortion, saying he was only serving President Park by delivering her intention to conglomerates.
Jeong, who was indicted on charges of leaking confidential documents to Choi, admitted to his wrongdoing and said that he had conspired with President Park in doing so.
Later in the hearing, Choi’s lawyer also claimed that the prosecution violated Choi’s human rights during the investigation process by illegally summoning her after she had been indicted and calling her in without a warrant.
The prosecution immediately refuted the claims.
During the probe, Choi, through her lawyer, also asked the judge to check the authenticity of a tablet PC, which the cable-TV network JTBC revealed in late October, saying she had never seen it.
The tablet PC, which is supposedly owned by Choi and contained policy drafts and presidential speeches, led to shocking revelations of Choi meddling in state affairs.
A total of 8 million South Koreans have taken to the streets over the past eight weeks to demand President Park step down, which led to Park being impeached earlier this month.
Park claimed that she had no knowledge of Choi and her ex-aides’ alleged wrongdoings. She also said she had done nothing that deserves impeachment. The Constitutional Court has up to 180 days to make a ruling on whether to impeach her.
The next preparatory hearing will be on Dec. 29.
In a separate hearing held later in the day, Chae Eun-taek, a TV commercial director charged with embezzlement and extortion, only admitted to the embezzlement charge.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org