Friend of Park denies charges as trial begins
Brief hearing is the first public appearance in weeks for woman dubbed the ‘female Rasputin’
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.
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
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.