An independent counsel looking into the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday that Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil made hundreds of phone calls while Choi was on the run in Germany amid the spiraling corruption scandal.
The independent counsel said that President Park and Choi had some 570 calls using phones registered under borrowed names from April to late October in 2016, with the last phone conversation made on Oct. 26 a few days before Choi's return to Korea to face the prosecutorial probe.
"President Park had 127 calls with Choi while Choi was in Germany (from September to October)," lawyers for the counsel team said at the court, saying that a search of the presidential office was necessary to obtain the evidence.
The revelation came as the Seoul Administrative Court held a hearing on the counsel team's request to suspend and cancel the presidential aides' disapproval of a search and seizure operation on the presidential compound.
The "burner" phones respectively used by President Park and Choi were registered by Yoon Jeon-choo, a Cheong Wa Dae staffer, on the same day, the lawyers said. Choi was staying in Germany to avoid public scrutiny after the scandal surfaced in late October.
Earlier last month, former presidential aide Jeong Ho-seong admitted that President Park had used a phone under a borrowed name for security reasons and he personally had paid for it, during Park's impeachment trial.
"It is certain the material to prove it is in the presidential compound. If the search is blocked, it poses a great difficulty to the investigation to finding the truth about the corruption scandal," the team said.
The independent counsel filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Administrative Court on Friday after presidential aides denied the team's entry into the presidential compound, citing security reasons.
Two focal points are whether the counsel team has the legal mandate to file a suit against another government body to invalidate an administrative action and whether the search is in the national interest.
Under Korean law, searching top security sites with state secrets requires approval from the person in charge of the location. But the law prohibits the person from stopping the search unless it undermines the national interest.
The ruling is expected Thursday at the earliest, given the court-issued search warrant is valid until Feb. 28 and the deadline for the investigation also ends on the same day.
If their request is dismissed, it is "impossible" to execute the search warrant on the presidential office, the counsel team had earlier said.
The counsel team has been investigating Park's involvement in extorting donations from local firms for the K-Sports and Mir foundations, creating a blacklist of left-wing cultural figures and Choi's meddling in state affairs -- key reasons behind Park's impeachment.
The lawsuit increases pressure on the presidential office amid the continued deadlock between President Park and the counsel team over its plan to question Park face-to-face.
Park's lawyers and the counsel team are allegedly in the process of discussing the timing and location for the questioning. Park earlier called off the planned interrogation, accusing the team of leaking information to the media.
The counsel team appears to have made another last-ditch effort to prove Park's involvement in the scandal by requesting an arrest warrant for Samsung Group's de facto chief Lee Jae-yong for the second time a day earlier.
Lee is suspected of offering donations to the K-Sports and Mir foundations, both allegedly under Choi's control, in return for the Park administration's backing of its merger of two affiliates.