Choi confesses to visiting ParkChoi Soon-sil, the woman at the center of a political scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, admitted to entering the Blue House around 10 times after Park took office in February 2013, escorted by a vehicle used exclusively by government officials, prosecutors said Sunday.
Choi confessed to prosecutors during questioning that she met with Park in her office “several times,” while Park’s former personal secretary, Jeong Ho-seong, admitted that he let Choi in mostly during the early months of Park’s presidency.
Both Choi and Jeong claimed they did not know precisely how many times Choi was allowed access.
With Sunday’s final briefing, prosecutors officially wrapped up their two-month probe into the abuse of power scandal surrounding President Park and her confidante Choi, who allegedly meddled in state affairs despite holding no position in government.
Prosecutors said they would pass on their information to a so-called special investigation team that was recently formed to delve further into the scandal. Comprising 105 members, the largest independent counsel ever formed in Korea, the team will have nearly three months to investigate all the charges surrounding President Park and decide whether she should be prosecuted when she leaves office.
Under Korean law, a president cannot be indicted while in office but can be charged after leaving.
On Sunday, authorities once again affirmed that the controversial tablet PC discovered by local broadcaster JTBC did belong to Choi and was personally used by her. Choi and her close aides have ceaselessly claimed that she was not tech-savvy enough to use the device, fanning suspicion that JTBC lied about its exclusive reports. The broadcaster’s reports in mid-October based on the tablet PC’s contents revealed Choi’s underhanded dealings.
On Sunday, prosecutors also indicted Kim Chong, a former vice minister of sports, culture and tourism, and Cho Won-dong, a former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs.
Kim was indicted on charges of abuse of power and leaking state secrets. Cho was indicted with charges of attempting to force the conglomerate CJ Group to dismiss its vice chairwoman, an allegation that CJ’s chairman admitted last Wednesday during a public hearing.
In both cases, the prosecution made clear that Kim and Cho acted “in collusion with the president.”
Kim was accused of pressuring Kim Jae-youl, president of Samsung Sports Business at Cheil Worldwide, to donate 1.6 billion won ($1.3 million) to a winter sports youth center run by Choi’s niece, Jang Si-ho. He was also charged with forcing Grand Korea Leisure, a public company under the Culture Ministry, to donate 200 million won to Jang’s initiative and with handing over confidential government documents to Choi.
What prosecutors failed to prove over the past two months, however, was whether President Park committed third-party bribery, which could put her in jail for at least 10 years. The work of looking into the allegations has been passed on to the special investigation team.
Over the past several weeks, prosecutors have been grilling eight business tycoons about their financial contributions to two nonprofit foundations managed by Choi. Prosecutors suspected the donations were made in return for favors from the government, but they could not prove the link.
Prosecutors reconfirmed on Sunday that Jeong, President Park’s former personal secretary, had leaked 180 Blue House documents to Choi.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN AND SONG SEUNG-HWAN [email@example.com]