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Park flip-flops on apology

President Park Geun-hye on Sunday asserted the innocence of not only herself but her aides, who she said were “suffering hardships” for their hard work, going back on her previous apology for the scandal that led to her impeachment.

At a New Year’s meeting with reporters -- her first public appearance since the National Assembly passed an impeachment motion on Dec. 9 -- Park blamed the media and the special investigation team for “inflating distortions and lies that got out of control.”

She said many of her aides were facing difficulty due to the ongoing probe. This contrasted with her news conference on Nov. 4 in which she apologized for having failed to keep “some individuals” from “interest-seeking and various unlawful activities” in the scandal surrounding her friend Choi Soon-sil.

“My heart aches when I see those who have helped me suffering hardships even though they worked hard without taking any bribe or doing anything shady,” Park said.

“I feel sorry also for the businesspeople and there isn’t a day I am at ease because they are having difficulties such as a raid, for having joined in promoting culture and creative economy on the belief that it would be also good for them if the Korean Wave is empowered and improves national brand.” 

President Park Geun-hye (second from right) speaks with reporters during a New Year`s meeting at a guest house within Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye (second from right) speaks with reporters during a New Year`s meeting at a guest house within Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)

Park then accused the independent counsel of “setting her up” in its probe into allegations that she had ordered then-Welfare Minister Moon Hyong-pyo to pressure the National Pension Service to back the controversial merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries in 2015. The sovereign wealth fund, a shareholder of both firms, lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result, while Choi is believed to have received nearly 30 billion won ($25.6 million) from Samsung.

Moon was arrested Saturday on charges of abuse of his authority.

“(The counsel) completely set me up. I wasn’t thinking of giving favors to anybody at all,” Park said. “Whatever decision it was, it was the state’s proper policy decision.”

The about-face added to public anger over her inconsistent denial of the allegations against her despite growing evidence. It appears to target the probe and eventually a forthcoming trial at the Constitutional Court over the impeachment bill.

On the seven “missing seven hours” on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster, Park reiterated she was “normally performing” her duty at her residence at Cheong Wa Dae.

The counsel is also looking into allegations that she underwent plastic surgery while the ship was sinking and more than 300 people, mostly high school students, were drowning.

An anti-aging specialist and plastic surgeon who was not officially cleared by Cheong Wa Dae admitted to many secret visits to the presidential palace during a recent parliamentary questioning but denied he was there on April 16, 2014.

“I did not have any schedule so was working at my residence,” Park said. “I work at the residence if I don’t have any official event since I don’t have any family and can take guests there.”

The remarks also triggered controversy as suspicions grew that she spent more time at her residence instead of her office, shunning face-to-face reports in favor of written reports and phone calls. These habits helped worsen the ferry debacle, the bereaved families and other critics say.

“Initially I did not think of it as such a massive disaster,” she said, when asked why she failed to show up at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters early. “In fact, I thought it would be the best to respond properly on the ground, rather than from a conference room.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (