In her first public appearance since the South Korean national assembly voted to impeach her, Park Geun-hye met with a select group of reporters on January 1 to deny all allegations against her and accuse her opponents of framing her. “The matter is under investigation, so I can’t make detailed explanations that might put both sides in trouble,” she said, “but what I can assure you is that I have never conspired with anyone or did anything to give favors to someone, not even by a bit.”
Park is charged with giving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil extraordinary sway over government affairs and conspiring with her to extort money from South Korea’s largest conglomerates in exchange for political favors. The national assembly voted to impeach her on December 9, 2016 after millions of people took to the streets to demand her ouster. She is stripped of all executive powers while the Constitutional Court deliberates the impeachment motion.
Meanwhile, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the “Park Geun-hye–Choi Soon-sil gate” has reportedly gathered evidence that Park had three private meetings with Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong in 2015 and 2016 to recommend that his corporation give money to support a sports foundation run by Choi Soon-sil’s cousin. Samsung donated two large sums, totaling 1.6 billion won (approximately 1.3 million USD) to the sports foundation, according to the special prosecutor, and both transactions took place immediately after President Park privately met with the corporation’s vice chair. The special prosecutor is investigating allegations that Park, in exchange, orchestrated government support for a corporate merger that would clench Lee Jae-yong’s ascension to ownership of the Samsung group.
The special prosecutor is also investigating allegations that Choi Soon-sil and members of her family have stashed close to 800 billion won (approximately 665 million USD) in unreported assets overseas. Choi, who is currently behind bars, has refused to cooperate with the special prosecutor’s investigation and cited “psychological shock” as the reason for her failure to appear for questioning. The special prosecutor is threatening to bring new criminal charges against her to get her to cooperate.
Witnesses are also refusing to cooperate with the constitutional court as it deliberates Park’s impeachment. Former Blue House secretaries Ahn Bong-geun and Lee Jae-man failed to appear at a constitutional court hearing on January 5 and have gone missing, making it impossible for the court to serve them their subpoenas. The court’s inability to produce key witnesses could drag out South Korea’s political circus, and Park Geun-hye, despite having lost all legitimacy, refuses to exit the ring.
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