Woman at heart of S Korean scan­dal re­fus­ing to tes­tify

Fi­nal days in power for Park

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: Ahead of an im­peach­ment vote later this week, law­mak­ers took turns grilling a K-pop mu­sic di­rec­tor, a fash­ion de­signer and nearly a dozen oth­ers said to be linked to a woman at the heart of a scan­dal that threat­ens to bring down South Korea’s pres­i­dent.

Miss­ing, how­ever, was the woman, the jailed con­fi­dante of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye, who cited a panic dis­or­der for her re­fusal to at­tend the hear­ing yes­ter­day, the lat­est step in what ap­pears to be the fi­nal days in power for Park. Prose­cu­tors say Park, who faces an im­peach­ment vote Fri­day, let her friend of 40 years, Choi Soon-sil, con­trol gov­ern­ment af­fairs and ex­tort com­pa­nies. Park de­nies it.

On live TV, law­mak­ers in a hear­ing room jammed with me­dia sent away a squad of about 20 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers with or­ders that Choi and 10 other wit­nesses at­tend the hear­ing. A niece of Choi later ap­peared at the hear­ing but oth­ers re­fused to at­tend, Na­tional As­sem­bly of­fi­cials said. They could face jail or fines, but wit­nesses who have re­fused to at­tend past hear­ings have mostly been fined.

Choi is be­ing held at a de­ten­tion cen­ter near Seoul. She and two of Park’s for­mer pres­i­den­tial ad­vis­ers have been in­dicted. One of the two ex-aides al­legedly pres­sured big com­pa­nies to do­nate mil­lions of dol­lars to foun­da­tions con­trolled by Choi, while the other is ac­cused of pass­ing con­fi­den­tial gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments to Choi. The two men, both jailed at an­other de­ten­tion cen­ter, also re­fused to tes­tify yes­ter­day.

Key wit­ness ab­sent

Thir­teen peo­ple caught up in the scan­dal were at the hear­ing, in­clud­ing two of Choi’s for­mer as­so­ci­ates and for­mer pres­i­den­tial chief of staff Kim Ki-choon. Choi’s niece, Chang Si-ho, ran a sports foun­da­tion that al­legedly re­ceived il­licit state fi­nan­cial sup­port and other fa­vors. With key wit­nesses ab­sent, law­mak­ers ques­tioned Kim about a 2014 ferry disas­ter that has long dogged Park’s gov­ern­ment be­cause of what’s widely be­lieved to have been a botched res­cue ef­fort. The sink­ing killed more than 300 peo­ple, mostly high school stu­dents on a field trip.

Op­po­si­tion law­maker Kim Kyung-jin grilled Kim about an al­le­ga­tion that he told ju­nior pres­i­den­tial sec­re­taries that ef­forts to re­cover bod­ies from the wreck­age should be stopped be­cause it would be a bur­den to the gov­ern­ment. The law­maker cited what he called a memo left by a late Park sec­re­tary. Kim Ki-choon de­nied mak­ing such an in­struc­tion, caus­ing Kim Kyung-jin to erupt. “It will be hard for you go to heaven af­ter you die. You need a lot of sel­f­re­flec­tion,” the law­maker said.

Other wit­nesses in­cluded Cha Eun-taek, a mu­sic video di­rec­tor who has been charged with us­ing his ties with Choi to win key cul­ture-re­lated projects from gov­ern­ment agen­cies, and Ko Young-tae, who ran a com­pany that made bags and clothes that Park used dur­ing over­seas trips at the in­tro­duc­tion of Choi.

If im­peached, Park’s pres­i­den­tial pow­ers will be sus­pended and the coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court will have up to 180 days to rule on whether to for­mally un­seat her. On Tues­day, Park told rul­ing party lead­ers that she is will­ing to ac­cept the out­come if she’s im­peached and would make “ev­ery avail­able ef­fort” to pre­pare for a court process. The com­ments sug­gest Park is brac­ing for a Con­sti­tu­tional Court pro­ce­dure that could de­ter­mine her fate, ac­cord­ing to South Korean me­dia.

—AFP

SEOUL: A pro­tester shouts slo­gans in front of a car­i­ca­ture of South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­Hye dur­ing a rally urg­ing the im­peach­ment of the pres­i­dent.

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