The independent counsel Monday said that President Park Geun-hye received bribes from Samsung Group in a scheme involving nonprofit foundations set up by her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.
“Park, in collusion with Choi, received bribes and illicit solicitation for her support of Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong’s succession process,” special counsel Park Young-soo told a news conference to announce the results of his investigation.
The counsel’s team -- the largest in South Korean history -- wrapped up its 70-day investigation into President Park on Feb. 28, handing its findings to state prosecutors.
It has indicted a total of 30, including Choi, Lee, and some of Park’s former aides.
The counsel booked President Park as a criminal suspect, but did not take any further action, as the sitting president has immunity to criminal liability.
Independent counsel Park Young-soo speaks during a press conference at the special prosecutor's office in Seoul on Monday, to announce the results of its 90-day investigation of President Park Geun-hye, her confidante and aides. (Yonhap)
The presidential office protested immediately, calling the findings a work of “imagination” and questioning the political neutrality of the special counsel. Samsung denied any bribery.
The connection of President Park, Choi and Samsung has been the focal point of the team’s sweeping investigation into the scandal, which has consumed Korea since October and led to the president’s impeachment by the parliament.
The probe concluded that the president helped Choi found the Mir and K Sports foundations and collaborated with her to extort 77.4 billion won ($65 million) from conglomerates, including Samsung, in the name of donations. Both entities are suspected to be covers for channeling money to Choi.
The counsel said part of the money given by Samsung should be seen as bribes, as they were offered with the purpose of winning Park’s support for a disputed merger between two group affiliates -- Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.
The merger, seen as a step designed to help Samsung’s heir apparent tighten his control of the group, was given crucial support by the National Pension Service, a major C&T shareholder, which voted in favor of the deal despite opposition from minor shareholders.
Lee is in detention awaiting trial, along with four other Samsung executives.
The counsel also said the Park administration’s blacklisting of cultural figures was “a systematic crime” conducted under the instruction of the president herself.
Seven have been indicted in relation to the list, which was used to discriminate against artists and cultural entities deemed unfavorable to the conservative president. They include former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun.
The multifaceted probe had also looked into the admissions fraud surrounding Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, President Park’s secret medical treatment from unauthorized doctors as well as her use of a borrowed-name phone, among others.
The counsel had sought to extend the probe period to investigate several remaining suspicions but was not granted an extension by acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
The special counsel’s team will not dissolve at least for a few months in order to lead the trials of those indicted.
The public prosecution said Monday that their investigators will pick up where the counsel has left off.
Lee Yeong-ryeol, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, will once again lead a team of 33 designated state prosecutors, which had initiated the probe into Park’s scandal before the appointment of the independent counsel last December.
Key subjects of their investigation include Park’s former presidential senior adviser for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo as well as local conglomerates SK and Lotte, which the counsel had failed to properly investigate.
By Bak Se-hwan (email@example.com)