|Choi Soon-sil is escorted to the courtroom at the Seoul Central District Court to attend her hearing on Oct. 19. Yonhap|
Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil was identified as its owner by JTBC, the TV network that had obtained the abandoned gadget.
But a year after it was unearthed, questions still remain over its ownership. Choi, now embroiled in a criminal trial, continues to deny the tablet was hers.
Choi’s lawyer Lee Kyung-jae asked last week that the court reject the tablet PC as evidence, saying Choi did not even know how to use such a device.
“The identification and verification of the true ownership of the tablet PC would be a first step in getting to the truth,” Lee told reporters. “It’s been a year since the revelation of the device by JTBC, but nothing is yet certain nor confirmed over the ownership, and Choi has consistently denied it since the beginning of the investigation,” Lee added.
The device was submitted by the prosecution and acknowledged by judges as possible evidence that Choi used her friendship with Park to influence state affairs and benefited personally by illegally soliciting bribes from conglomerates for nonprofit foundations controlled by Choi and Park.
The device contained classified documents on national security and diplomatic issues, as well as a draft version of a speech to be made by Park, viewed before the date of the speech, and self-taken photos of Choi using the device.
Earlier this month, Shin Hye-won, a former member of Park’s 2012 presidential campaign team, claimed she was the actual owner, not Choi. Choi has asked the court re-examine the device’s ownership.
Park’s legal team had planned to bring Shin to the witness stand, but the lawyers resigned en masse on Oct. 16 in protest of the decision to extend her detention.
Regarding Choi’s ownership of the tablet device, chief of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office Yoon Seok-yeol confirmed it belonged to Choi at a 20-day parliamentary audit last week.
When questioned by lawmakers from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party on who owns the tablet device, Yoon said they concluded that it belonged to Choi, saying the conclusion had been based on the fact that GPS locations stored in the device matched Choi’s whereabouts.
Yoon added that Park’s former secretary Jeong Ho-seong had also said that it was Choi’s. Jeong was indicted on charges that including giving classified information to Choi.
Choi exchanged text messages with Jeong to receive classified documents through emails that were sent to Choi’s tablet PC, Yoon explained.
Nam Kyoung-kook, a law professor at the University of Seoul Law School, said Choi’s strategy was to “raise a question over the ownership and divert attention from other allegations.”
“The revelation of the tablet computer is just a piece of the puzzle. Park’s former aides, including Jeong, are revealing to the court that the confidante peddled influence in state affairs for her own benefit using her friendship with Park,” Nam told The Korea Herald.
Choi has been held in detention since Oct. 31 last year while on trial for charges including coercion and bribery in collusion with Park.
The lower court’s verdict for Choi is expected next month, while the verdict for Park was delayed until early next year after her legal team resigned. The court has designated five court-appointed attorneys to represent Park in her trial.
The first female president elected in South Korea, Park was indicted on 18 charges on April 17, including receiving bribes from Samsung alongside Choi, who had no formal government position.
The scandal led to the candlelight movement that began on Oct. 29 last year, in which a total 17 million participants to demand Park’s ouster. Park has been detained at a corrections facility in southern Seoul since she was arrested on March 31.
By Bak Se-hwan (firstname.lastname@example.org)