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Business tycoons take stand in Park Geun-hye hearings

South Korean business tycoons are set to take the stand as witnesses in the hearings for ousted former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office and arrested in March on charges of corruption and abuses of power. 

CJ Group chairman Sohn Kyung-shik appears at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday afternoon to take the stand as a witness at former President Park Geun-hye’s hearing (Yonhap)
CJ Group chairman Sohn Kyung-shik appears at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday afternoon to take the stand as a witness at former President Park Geun-hye’s hearing (Yonhap)

The Seoul Central District Court on Monday summoned Sohn Kyung-shik, chairman of CJ Group, a parent company of the country’s largest entertainment conglomerate CJ E&M, to testify to whether Park influenced the group to give disadvantages to what Park perceived as “left-leaning” films and TV shows.

Park is accused of pressuring Sohn to make nationalistic films and help push her administration’s political agenda in a phone call to the CJ Group chairman in 2014. Park also faces accusations that she ordered the creation of a blacklist to bar non-pro-government cultural figures, including “Oldboy” director Park Chan-Wook, from receiving state subsidies and projects.

On Thursday, Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-yeon, LG Group Chairman Ku Bon-moo, GS Group Chairman Huh Chang-soo and Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho have been summoned to appear at the court for questioning during Park’s hearing, although Cho will not attend due to an overseas business trip.

Prosecutors suspect that Park solicited bribes from the conglomerates in 2015 for two nonprofit foundations -- Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation -- controlled by Park and her nongovernmental confidante Choi Soon-sil. It is suspected that part of the money was later channeled to Choi. In return, Park offered business favors to the companies, prosecutors allege.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who was the biggest contributor to the foundations allegedly in return for the government‘s backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015, was sentenced to five years in jail in August on bribery. He is currently waiting an appeals court decision expected to come next month.

Park has been on trial since last year on a total of 18 charges, including bribery, coercion, abuse of power and the leakage of government secrets to Choi.

Park, who remains in solitary confinement at a correctional facility just south of Seoul, has been tried in absentia since late November last year, when she began her boycott of the hearings, calling her case part of a “political vendetta.”

In addition to the 18 charges, two new charges were added last week, including bribery and loss of state funds in the spy agency scandal. Park is suspected to have received some 3.65 billion won ($3.43 million) from the spy agency. Part of the money was used to pay for personal purposes, including Botox injections and clothing purchases, according to prosecutors.

By Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)
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