Law­mak­ers ques­tion South Korea’s elu­sive ‘Rasputin’

Park snubs tele­vised hear­ing

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: A hand­ful of South Korean law­mak­ers yes­ter­day fi­nally got to ques­tion the woman at the heart of the im­peach­ment cri­sis sur­round­ing Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye, af­ter she snubbed a tele­vised hear­ing at her de­ten­tion cen­tre. Choi Soon-Sil, a long-time friend of the pres­i­dent, has re­peat­edly ig­nored sev­eral sum­mons to ap­pear be­fore a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee prob­ing a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that trig­gered Park’s im­peach­ment ear­lier this month.

So the law­mak­ers came to her, with the com­mit­tee or­gan­is­ing a spe­cial hear­ing yes­ter­day morn­ing-with TV cam­eras-in­side the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity where Choi is await­ing trial on charges of ex­tor­tion and abuse of power. Choi ini­tially re­fused to leave her cell, but even­tu­ally agreed to meet eight se­lected mem­bers of the com­mit­tee be­hind closed doors.

Cit­ing the law­mak­ers, Yon­hap news agency re­ported that Choi de­nied all her charges, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions that she col­luded with the pres­i­dent and set up two du­bi­ous foun­da­tions that were later used for her per­sonal gain. Choi, how­ever, said she was pre­pared to serve a life sen­tence and apol­o­gised to the pub­lic for “caus­ing con­fu­sion”, ac­cord­ing to Yon­hap.

She said she was feel­ing “dizzy” both phys­i­cally and men­tally and re­fused to an­swer most of the law­mak­ers’ ques­tions dur­ing the meet­ing that lasted nearly three hours, Yon­hap said. Two for­mer top pres­i­den­tial aides be­ing held in a sep­a­rate fa­cil­ity also re­fused to ap­pear for ques­tion­ing.

There are no le­gal grounds for forc­ing wit­nesses to at­tend a par­lia­men­tary hear­ing, al­though they can be held in con­tempt and face a max­i­mum five-year prison term for not do­ing so. The Na­tional Assem­bly voted to im­peach Park ear­lier this month, strip­ping away her sub­stan­tial ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers. She re­mains pres­i­dent in name, pend­ing a de­ci­sion by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court on whether to rat­ify par­lia­ment’s im­peach­ment mo­tion.

Ear­lier Mon­day, pros­e­cu­tors seized doc­u­ments dur­ing an early-morn­ing raid on the cen­tral Seoul res­i­dence of Kim Ki-Choon, who served as Park’s chief of staff be­tween 2013-15.

Kim has a long as­so­ci­a­tion with Park’s fam­ily, hav­ing also served her fa­ther-the late mil­i­tary strong­man Park Chung-Hee who led the coun­try for 18 years af­ter seiz­ing power in a 1961 mil­i­tary coup. Those close ties have led to al­le­ga­tions that he must have been aware of the in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­flu­ence that Choi-dubbed a “fe­male Rasputin” by the lo­cal me­dia-wielded over the pres­i­dent.

Park al­legedly leaked con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments to her friend, and al­lowed her to med­dle in state af­fairs-in­clud­ing the ap­point­ments of se­nior of­fi­cials. — AFP

SEOUL: The empty seat (cen­ter) of Choi Soon-Sil, a long-time friend of South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye, is seen dur­ing a par­lia­men­tary probe into a scan­dal as law­mak­ers set up a spe­cial hear­ing to ques­tion Choi at the de­ten­tion cen­tre where Choi is be­ing held in Ui­wang, south of Seoul yes­ter­day. —AFP

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