Choi Soon-sil appears before special investigators

Choi Soon-sil appears before special investigators
Choi is suspected of working with her associates, President Park and former presidential aides to meddle in state affairs, interfere in the operations of companies for personal gains and coerce conglomerates to make donations to organisations related to her, which investigators suspect were essentially bribes that might be connected to the president herself.
PHOTO: Reuters

Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye's longtime friend who stands at the centre of a massive influence-peddling and corruption scandal, appeared before special investigators Saturday to face questioning.

Choi's prime charge is that she exerted influence for personal interests and meddled in confidential state affairs, using her ties with the president -- a scandal which led the National Assembly to vote on impeaching the state chief earlier this month.

The 60-year-old suspect, wearing a prisoner uniform and horn-rimmed glasses, arrived at the independent counsel office in southern Seoul at around 2 pm.

Read also: Choi Soon-sil suspected of hiding $962 million in Germany: Report

The counsel, aiming at probing further into the extensive scandal, kicked off on Wednesday and took over the investigation so far conducted by prosecutors.

"(Today's questioning) is about confirming Choi's side of the story, concerning the allegations revealed so far," said an official of the special probe team.

Choi did not answer any of the questions while entering the building.

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Her visit followed that of Kim Chong, a former vice culture minister who was brought in early in the day as part of the investigation. Kim allegedly assisted Choi in forcing conglomerates to donate nearly 80 billion won (S$96 million) to two foundations related to Choi.

The presidential confidante, in her appearance in court on Monday, had denied all major charges.

Choi accused of interfering in state affairs using relationship with President

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    The woman at the centre of a corruption scandal that triggered the biggest political crisis for a generation in South Korea appeared in court Monday for a preliminary hearing in her trial on fraud charges.

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    It was the first public appearance since October for Choi Soon-Sil, who has been dubbed Korea’s “female Rasputin” for the influence she wielded over the now-impeached president, Park Geun-Hye.

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    Sporting black-rimmed glasses and a surgical mask that obscured her face, Choi, who has been in custody for the past seven weeks, was brought to the Seoul Central District Court in a special prison bus.

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    Television footage showed her handcuffed and wearing a blue-grey prison outfit with a serial number on the chest as she was taken off the bus and led into the court building by a female guard.

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    The 60-year-old faces trial on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power – largely related to huge “donations” made by conglomerates to two dubious foundations she controlled and allegedly plundered.

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    A long-time friend of Park’s, Choi is accused of using her leverage with the president to strong-arm the companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars.

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    Accusations that Park colluded with Choi formed the basis of an impeachment motion against the president that was passed by parliament earlier this month.

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    The motion is now being considered by the Constitutional Court which has up to 180 days to make a ruling on whether to endorse or reject the president’s ouster.

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    The last time Choi was seen in public was in late October when she attended a summons at the Seoul prosecutor’s office and famously lost a much-photographed Prada shoe in the media scrum outside the building.

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    Choi was not obliged to turn up for Monday’s hearing, which was largely procedural and focused on preparing the way for the trial proper.

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    “She has expressed a willingness to participate sincerely in the trial,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

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    But her lawyer, Lee Kyung-Jae, said she had volunteered to appear.

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    Choi was criticised for refusing to attend the hearings of a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal.

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    Park is also accused of ordering aides to leak confidential state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowing her to meddle in some state affairs, including the appointment of top officials.

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    Choi Soon-sil, accused of interfering in state affairs using her relationship with President Park Geun-hye, arrived at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office building in Seoul on Monday to face questioning over her alleged influence peddling.

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    Choi, a longtime confidante and shaman-like adviser to Park, had returned to Seoul on Sunday from Europe, capping a week of turmoil that led to a massive anti-government rally over the weekend.

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    Choi, a private citizen with no position in making policy, will be investigated over allegations of taking advantage of her political ties with President Park and coercing conglomerates to donate money to two foundations she controls.

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    She is also accused of seeking academic favors from professors at Ewha Womans University for her daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

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The circumstantial evidence have been building over the past months that the president let her friend make key state decisions behind the scene and that the latter used her illegitimate power for personal good. The revelation and the consequent denials kindled public anger, leading to record-breaking candlelight vigils across the nation.

The fate of President Park, currently suspended from all powers and substituted by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, depends on the Constutional Court's decision on whether or not to uphold the parliamentary impeachment resolution.

Meanwhile, protesters vowed to continue their weekend rallies until the disgraced president steps down from her post, which will immediately opening doors to an earlier-than-planned presidential election next year.

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