Park's confidante to attend preliminary hearing for 'fair trial'

Prosecutors have charged Choi Soon Sil, 60, with colluding with South Korean President Park Geun Hye into pressuring big businesses to pay funds to foundations that backed the President's policy initiatives.
Prosecutors have charged Choi Soon Sil, 60, with colluding with South Korean President Park Geun Hye into pressuring big businesses to pay funds to foundations that backed the President's policy initiatives.PHOTO: AFP

Choi's lawyer hopes court will not be swayed by vigils, protests

SEOUL • A friend of South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the centre of a scandal that led to Ms Park's impeachment in Parliament will attend the preliminary hearing in the former's corruption trial next week, her lawyer has said.

Choi Soon Sil has not appeared in public since arriving at a prosecutors' office on Oct 31, losing a shoe as she pushed through a scrum of journalists and protesters who demanded she be brought to justice.

South Koreans will be keen to get a look at the woman at the centre of an influence-peddling scandal that could result in the first-ever ousting from office of a democratically elected president of their country.

"She is coming. She wants to come and get a fair trial by the court," Choi's lawyer, Mr Lee Kyung Jae, told Reuters by telephone yesterday.

Prosecutors have charged Choi, 60, with colluding with Ms Park into pressuring big businesses to pay funds to foundations that backed the President's policy initiatives.

SHOWING UP

She is coming. She wants to come and get a fair trial by the court.

MR LEE KYUNG JAE, Choi's lawyer, on his client's upcoming appearance at a preliminary hearing in her corruption trial.


WORST-CASE SCENARIO

I told her to be prepared for the worst because prosecutors can seek the maximum punishment for her and if there's anything to defend, we need to defend and anything to admit wrongdoing about, then let's admit it.

MR LEE

Mr Lee said the prosecutors' accusations against his client were "fiction". He declined to elaborate.

Choi is not required to attend preliminary court hearings and she defied a parliamentary order to appear at a hearing last week, saying she was prone to panic attacks, lawmakers said.

Parliament impeached Ms Park last Friday and she remains in the presidential Blue House, stripped of her powers while she waits for the Constitutional Court to deliberate on the parliamentary vote and rule whether to uphold it.

That could take up to 180 days.

If the court upholds the overwhelming vote, a new election would be held within 60 days to pick a successor who will serve a full five-year term. Ms Park's term was set to end in February 2018.

Ms Park has described Choi as a friend she had turned to in difficult times and apologised for carelessness in her ties with her. But the President has denied any legal wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have portrayed Choi as the mastermind in several schemes to gain financial benefit from companies the businesswoman controlled.

Wrapping up a two-month investigation, prosecutors said on Sunday they have indicted 11 individuals, including Choi and three former presidential aides, so far. Most of them have been arrested, they said.

Ms Park herself has immunity from indictment while she is in office but could face prosecution if she is removed.

 
 

The Seoul Central District Court has scheduled a preliminary hearing in Choi's trial for Monday.

It will hold a lottery to allocate about 80 of the 150 seats in the courtroom for the public.

Mr Lee said he had visited Choi in detention often, and he had advised her to prepare for the worst. He also questioned whether she could get a fully fair trial.

"I only hope the court will act according to the law and principle, not be affected by candlelit vigils and taegeuk-gi (Korean flag) protests outside the court," he said, referring to weekly protests calling for Ms Park to go.

"I told her to be prepared for the worst because prosecutors can seek the maximum punishment for her and if there's anything to defend, we need to defend and anything to admit wrongdoing about, then let's admit it."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'Park's confidante to attend preliminary hearing for 'fair trial''. Print Edition | Subscribe