The Korea Herald


Choi defends Park in impeachment trial

By KH디지털2

Published : Jan. 16, 2017 - 15:25

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Choi Soon-sil vehemently defended President Park Geun-hye and denied her alleged meddling in state affairs during Park’s impeachment trial Monday. 

“President Park is not a person who would derive personal benefits or give her family members or close friends personal favors,” she said, appearing at the Constitutional Court for the first time since the historic trial began two weeks ago. 

“Park has no one else around, so I just wanted to help her. It is regrettable that I was completely framed and caused trouble,” she said, shedding tears before the nine judges. “Those who spread false rumors about me should all be harshly punished. I really don’t deserve this.” 

During the fifth hearing of the trial, Choi admitted to having met President Park at the presidential office to help her with “private matters” without specifying how often she visited Park or what the matters were about.

Choi denied all allegations that she peddled influence over state affairs and key personnel appointments as well as set up and run dubious entities -- the Mir and K-Sports foundations -- to use them to channel public funds for her private gains.

“I am a civilian. The president has served in public office for a longtime. She has a firm philosophy in running state affairs. It is a complete distortion (that I meddled in state affairs,)” she said. 

Choi’s alleged manipulation of power using her ties to the president is one of the key reasons behind the parliament’s impeachment of Park on Dec. 9. Choi herself is standing trial on charges of abuse of power, fraud and coercion. 

Choi Soon-sil arrives at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Monday, to attend the fifth hearing on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye (Yonhap) Choi Soon-sil arrives at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Monday, to attend the fifth hearing on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye (Yonhap)

During the hearing, she actively defended herself, asked for a five-minute break in the afternoon and even expressed irritation at some questions. At times, she raised her voice, described claims by the parliament’s lawyers as “a jump of logic” and refused to answer what she called “loaded questions.” 

“They (Ko Young-tae, Ryu Sang-yeong, Roh Seung-il and Park Heon-yeong) orchestrated the projects to extort donations and are now shifting all the responsibility to me and framing me,” she said, claiming that she and the president were not at all involved in deriving benefits from the foundations.

The key figures from the Mir and K-Sports foundations have maintained that they only followed orders from Choi in establishing and operating the foundations.

Choi dismissed all testimonies unfavorable to her as “fabricated.” 

“I cannot answer any questions based on Ko’s testimonies, because what he said has no credibility,” she said. “His testimonies were completely fabricated.”

Ko offered testimonies implicating Choi for coercing donations from conglomerates during the prosecutorial questioning and parliamentary inquiry. Ko is set to be brought in to testify before the court Tuesday, though it is unclear whether he will appear. Ko has remained unaccounted for, amid rumors that he suffered threats to his safety. 

Choi also denied the validity of her testimonies given to state prosecutors, taking issue with the prosecution’s “coercive” way of grilling her.  

“I was almost dying because the prosecution and an independent counsel were forcibly investigating me. I just wanted to commit suicide (while being questioned,)” she said. 

She also questioned the credibility of key pieces of evidence, including a tablet PC purportedly owned by her and later obtained by a local cable TV channel, as well as recordings of her conversations with officials from the Mir and K-Sports foundations. 

“I don’t even know how evidence was obtained. The prosecution has never shown me the physical evidence.”  

The court is set to decide whether the presented evidence including the tablet PC and recordings will be considered as valid in the impeachment trial Tuesday.  

Choi also testified that she had no financial relationship with Park. But the special counsel team said Monday that it obtained sufficient evidence to prove Park’s financial ties to Choi, which could prove a collusion between Choi and Park in alleged bribery. 

The special counsel team earlier Monday sought an arrest warrant for Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong on charges of offering bribes to Choi in return for the Park administration’s support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates. 

As for what she knows about the president’s whereabouts and actions during the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014, she said, “I cannot even remember what I did yesterday. It was so long time ago.” 

The president’s seven-hour absence and alleged failure to save more people during the nation’s worst maritime disaster, which left more than 300 dead or missing, is one of the charges listed in the impeachment motion. 

Choi’s appearance as a witness came amid the continued absence of key witnesses involved in the corruption scandal -- including ex-presidential aides Jeong Ho-seong, An Bong-geun and Lee Jae-man. Choi finally made an appearance Monday after the court vowed to forcibly summon witnesses if they fail to appear. 

President Park and key suspects all deny their charges and even question the validity and legitimacy of major pieces of evidence, in what critics see as a tactic to prolong court proceedings at the Constitutional Court. 

On Tuesday, the court will put other key witnesses on the stand, including former Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong, who allegedly stepped down under pressure from the presidential office, and Choi’s former aide Ko. 

The top court has until early June to decide whether to uphold or overturn Park’s impeachment. 

By Ock Hyun-ju (