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Woo remains defiant to parliamentary inquiry

'Even at this moment, I don't know of Choi Soon-sil. I only saw her in the news reports'

Former presidential aide Woo Byung-woo flatly denied his involvement in the corruption scandal tied to President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil during a parliamentary inquiry Thursday on the case that led to Park’s impeachment.

Woo, Park’s senior secretary for civil affairs from January 2015 to October 2016, claimed that he had never met Choi, the president’s longtime friend accused of meddling in state affairs.

“Even at this moment, I don’t know of Choi Soon-sil. I only saw her in the news reports,” said Woo during the fifth parliamentary hearing on the scandal that took place at the National Assembly in Seoul. Lawmakers suspect that it was Choi who handpicked Woo for the post of senior secretary for civil affairs, which includes making sure there is no corruption among officials. 

Former senior presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo (left) and former presidential nurse officer Cho Yeo-ok (right) attend a parliamentary hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Former senior presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo (left) and former presidential nurse officer Cho Yeo-ok (right) attend a parliamentary hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Thursday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Woo dismissed the allegation as groundless and claimed that that he was selected by Kim Ki-choon, the former presidential chief of staff who had also denied any knowledge of Choi during a previous inquiry. Woo added that he had never met the president before working at Cheong Wa Dae.

His stance was consistent with the defiance he has shown since the scandal erupted last October. Not only did Woo deny his involvement with Choi at a prosecutorial probe last month, he had refused to attend the hearing despite mounting calls for him to do so. He accepted the request last week.

“I am not running away (from the hearing),” said Woo, responding to the criticism from lawmakers that Woo might have gone into hiding to avoid testifying at the hearing. “So many reporters were waiting at my house. I couldn’t stay there.”

Woo also denied the allegation that he had attempted to block an investigation into the Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation run by Choi. They are accused of extorting donations from large businesses such as Samsung and LG. 

When questioned whether he had instructed his staff at Cheong Wa Dae to create falsified documents to refute the allegation, Woo said, “I never made such a document. I never gave my staff such instructions.”

Woo also denied the accusation that he had prevented prosecutors from probing into rumors that Choi’s former husband Jeong Yun-hoe meddled in state affairs in 2014. Jeong had worked as Park’s top aide when she was a lawmaker in 2006.

Also in attendance during the hearing was an Army captain, who had been rumored to perform plastic surgery on the president during the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol. The officer worked as a nurse at Cheong Wa Dae back then.

Having returned from the United States following the lawmakers’ request for her appearance, she denied the allegation that Park received facial injections for beauty purposes on April 16, 2014 when the ship sank and left more than 300 dead or missing.

The officer also that said she never saw Park receiving such treatments from others and that the presidential office does not have the psychotropic drug propofol. She, however, declined to comment on whether Park was suffering from sleeping disorders, citing such information as private.

The lawmakers, meanwhile, vowed to hold a separate session Friday for Choi Soon-sil who refused to attend the hearing, citing the reason that she is under investigation. They said that if Choi continues to refuse to attend, they will pay a visit to the prison where Choi is being kept.

By Yeo Jun-suk  (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)
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