Special counsel summons Choi in probe of bribery linked to president, Samsung chief

Special prosecutors said Friday they have summoned President Park Geun-hye's jailed friend as they speed up their investigation into a bribery case involving Samsung Group's de facto leader and possibly the impeached president.

Lee Kyu-chul, spokesman for the independent counsel team, said it called in Choi Soon-sil to face questioning on Saturday morning as a bribery suspect.

Choi has denied repeated summonses citing health issues, her own criminal trial and her obligation to testify at Park's impeachment trial.

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"We have not yet received notice of whether she will appear," Lee said during a regular press briefing. "If she does not appear tomorrow, I understand that we will seek an arrest warrant against her."

Prosecutors suspect that Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, offered or promised a total of 43 billion won (S$53 million) in "donations" to two foundations and other shady organisations controlled by Choi in return for the government's backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.

Earlier this week, the team sought an arrest warrant for Lee on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, but a Seoul court rejected the request.

Choi accused of interfering in state affairs using relationship with President

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Accusations that Park colluded with Choi formed the basis of an impeachment motion against the president that was passed by parliament earlier this month.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • “She has expressed a willingness to participate sincerely in the trial,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
  • But her lawyer, Lee Kyung-Jae, said she had volunteered to appear.
  • Choi was criticised for refusing to attend the hearings of a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • She is also accused of seeking academic favors from professors at Ewha Womans University for her daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

Choi's attorney Lee Kyung-jae made it clear she has no plans to obey the summons.

"I asked (Choi) again yesterday, but she said she can't appear before the special prosecutors," he said. "She's extremely busy with her trial and all."

Choi has been indicted on charges of abuse of power, coercion and attempted fraud.

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Lee claimed the prosecutors have already gathered all the information they need from her.

"If an arrest warrant is issued, we'll deal with it then. There isn't much we can do if a warrant is enforced under the law. Either way, it's the same to (Choi)," he added.

Park was impeached by parliament last month for allegedly letting her friend meddle in state affairs and colluding with her to extort money from conglomerates.