Friend of Park de­nies charges as trial be­gins

Brief hear­ing is the first pub­lic ap­pear­ance in weeks for woman dubbed the ‘fe­male Rasputin’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Seoul

A friend of South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye at the cen­ter of a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that led to Park’s im­peach­ment in Par­lia­ment de­nied charges of fraud and abuse of power on Mon­day on the first day of her trial.

The friend, Choi Soon-sil, 60, is charged with pres­sur­ing big busi­nesses to pay money to foun­da­tions that backed Park’s pol­icy ini­tia­tives.

Prose­cu­tors have named Park as an ac­com­plice, al­though she has im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion while in of­fice.

Park’s pow­ers have been sus­pended since the Dec 9 vote by Par­lia­ment to im­peach her, giv­ing the Con­sti­tu­tional Court up to 180 days to up­hold or over­turn the de­ci­sion.

In a brief court hear­ing, Choi, who has been dubbed Korea’s “fe­male Rasputin” for the in­flu­ence she wielded over Park, de­nied all charges brought against her by prose­cu­tors. Her lawyer ar­gued that Choi did not col­lude with Park or other de­fen­dants in the case, and also de­nied the fraud charge.

“I need to clar­ify the facts now,” Choi was quoted as telling the court by Yon­hap News Agency.

Park’s or­ders

Two former pres­i­den­tial aides who have been in­dicted along with Choi did not at­tend the hear­ing, but their lawyers told the court that they had been fol­low­ing Park’s or­ders.

Choi also said she did not want a jury trial. South Korean courts nor­mally hold crim­i­nal tri­als presided over by a panel of judges, who de­liver a ver­dict and sen­tence, while de­fen­dants in se­lect cases are given the choice of a jury trial.

Her lead lawyer, Lee Kyung-jae, re­jected the charge that Choi col­luded with Park and one of the former aides to the pres­i­dent, An Chong-bum, to ex­ert pres­sure on var­i­ous ma­jor com­pa­nies.

“We stressed that there was no col­lu­sion be­tween Choi and An Chong-bum and the pres­i­dent, and we look for­ward to hav­ing an in­tense ex­am­i­na­tion over this point,” Lee said.

Choi was led into court by two cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, her head down, wear­ing a bulky gray prison suit with a num­ber across the chest. She last ap­peared in pub­lic on Oct 31, when, af­ter los­ing a Prada shoe in a crush of me­dia and pro­test­ers, she told re­porters at the Seoul prose­cu­tors’ of­fice that she had “com­mit­ted a sin that de­serves death”.

She spoke softly and was barely au­di­ble in a brief com­ment to the court. The next hear­ing is set for Dec 29.

We stressed that there was no col­lu­sion be­tween Choi and An Chong-bum and the pres­i­dent.” Lee Kyung-jae, lead lawyer for Choi Soon-sil

Master­mind?

Park, 64, has de­scribed Choi as a friend she had turned to at dif­fi­cult times and apol­o­gized for care­less­ness in her ties with her.

Park has de­nied any le­gal wrong­do­ing.

Park’s lawyers ar­gu­ing against the im­peach­ment vote in an opin­ion filed at the Con­sti­tu­tional Court have said the case had no le­gal ba­sis and was also pro­ce­du­rally flawed, and that the im­peach­ment was based largely on un­proven sus­pi­cion and charges that were now un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and trial.

Prose­cu­tors have por­trayed Choi as the master­mind in sev­eral schemes to gain fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit from com­pa­nies she con­trolled.

Choi’s friend­ship with Park dates to the time when Park served as act­ing first lady af­ter her mother was killed in 1974 by an as­sas­sin who had in­tended to kill her father, then-pres­i­dent Park Chung-hee. Her father was shot dead five years later by his spy chief.

Sev­eral buses sent to evac­u­ate the sick and in­jured from two be­sieged vil­lages in Idlib, Syria, were at­tacked by armed men on Sun­day. The evac­u­a­tion has since re­sumed. Mean­while, more than 3,000 peo­ple left Aleppo on Mon­day.

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