Puppies, lip balm and drama at S Korea scandal hearing

Puppies, lip balm and drama at S Korea scandal hearing

SEOUL - A televised hearing into a massive political scandal has turned into a daily drama fix for millions of South Koreans, riveted by its moveable cast of pampered tycoons, tough-talking lawmakers and an oddly heroic toyboy.

And as well as watching, some citizens have become active participants in the process, texting information to members of the investigative parliamentary committee to help with their lines of questioning.

The ongoing, two-month hearing is seeking to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal that has engulfed President Park Geun-Hye and brought millions of protestors onto the streets to demand her removal.


Park stands accused of colluding with the woman at the centre of whole affair, her long-time friend and confidante Choi Soon-Sil who is now awaiting trial on charges of fraud and abuse of power.

The sessions so far have provided moments of high-drama, including the sight of lawmakers grilling and chastising the country's most powerful businessmen.

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There have been some memorable rhetorical flourishes, notably when one lawmaker became particularly frustrated with Park's former chief of staff Kim Ki-Choon for repeatedly denying any knowledge of Choi Soon-Sil's existence.

"It won't be easy for you to go to heaven once you die. You have so much to repent," the MP shouted at Kim.


But it was a young, obscure fashion designer with a slightly dodgy past as a male escort, who stole the show with his accounts of Choi's personal life and the influence she wielded over Park.

While most of the tycoons and senior officials stayed as tight-lipped as possible under questioning, Koh Young-Tae stood out with his candid testimony.

He described how Choi had treated Park's former deputy sport's minister as her "personal assistant" and how clothing and bags he provided Choi ended up being selected for the president's official wardrobe.

According to media reports, the 40-year-old ex-fencer and Asian Games gold medallist was a part-time gigolo when he befriended Choi.


Koh denied being romantically involved with the 60-year-old, but admitted that the two had been close to the point where she often visited his home - until a puppy soured their ties.

"Choi asked me in 2014 to take care of her daughter's puppy briefly ... and came to my home when I left it alone in the house to go out to play golf," Koh said.

"She was upset that I left the dog alone in the house, so we had a huge fight," he said, adding that their relationship had fallen apart as a result.

The spat is now seen as key to unravelling the whole scandal, as a disgruntled Koh tipped off reporters about Choi's hold over Park, which extended to editing presidential speeches.

Online users have hailed Koh as a "hero" while one lawmaker praised him as the man who had "opened Pandora's box." "No matter what your motive was, this hearing would not have happened without you," the MP told Koh.

The most high-profile witness to be called so far has been Lee Jae-Yong, the heir apparent to the chairmanship of South Korea's largest conglomerate, Samsung.


His testimony regarding donations made to foundations controlled by Choi had been widely anticipated, but many viewers ended up more fascinated by his lips than his words.

While being bombarded with questions, Lee was seen surreptitiously applying balm to his chapped lips from time to time.

Local online sellers instantly rushed to promote the product - a two-dollar stick called "softlips" from a US cosmetics maker - as "Lee Jae-Yong lip balm" which promptly began trending on social media and Korean search engines.

Similarly, a navy coat worn by Koh on Wednesday sparked a flurry of queries among online users over which brand it was.

But not everyone in the audience was so easily sidetracked.


Members of one popular online chatroom were pivotal in countering the testimony from Park's former chief of staff that he had never even heard Choi Soon-Sil's name, Old TV footage unearthed by a chatroom member showed Kim sitting with Park at a 2007 public debate at which other panel members repeatedly asked about her relationship with Choi.

The footage was aired at the hearing, forcing a visibly shocked Kim to correct his earlier testimony, blaming his "old age" and failing memory.

"I could make Kim Ki-Choon confess thanks to the power of our citizens," said lawmaker Park Young-Sun who praised the "netizen detectives."

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