Counsel bans Kim Ki-choon from travel prior to probe

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Counsel bans Kim Ki-choon from travel prior to probe

The independent counsel that will decide whether to prosecute President Park Geun-hye after she leaves office slapped a travel ban on Kim Ki-choon, former presidential chief of staff, on Thursday.

The latest move by independent counsel Park Young-soo was an early one, as the largest independent counsel ever formed in Korea has not officially launched their probe into the colossal corruption scandal. By law, they have until Monday to prepare, mainly by reviewing information passed on by prosecutors in a separate probe, which wrapped up last Sunday.

The travel ban was an apparent sign that the team will begin their 70-day investigation next week by cracking down on one of the highest-profile figures in the scandal, the allegations about whom prosecutors failed to prove.

Also prohibited from leaving the country on Thursday were Dr. Kim Sang-man, a former doctor at the anti-aging clinic Chaum, and Dr. Kim Young-jae, a plastic surgeon - who performed medical procedures on Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Kim Ki-choon, the former presidential chief of staff, allegedly abused his power by ordering Kim Chong, former vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, to dismiss six first-grade senior ministry officials in October 2014. Prosecutors also claim he turned a blind eye to Choi’s growing influence in the Blue House, a dereliction of duty, or worse orchestrated her influence-peddling scheme along with the president’s “three doorknobs” - Park’s closest aides.

Kim has consistently claimed he never knew about Choi. In a public hearing led by a special legislative committee last week, he asserted he knew “only her name.”

Independent counsel Park told reporters Thursday his team will soon summon President Park for a face-to-face questioning, but will try to do so only once, maybe twice at the most.

As to where the questioning will be held, independent counsel Park, who formerly worked as a prosecutor, said it wouldn’t be in their office in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, due to “security issues.”

The idea, he continued, would also be impolite to the president.

The team added that Choi Soon-sil’s daughter, the equestrian athlete Chung Yoo-ra, will “definitely be called in” for questioning, and that it is currently undergoing required procedures.

Chung, who is currently on leave from Ewha Womans University, appears to be hiding in Germany.

An ongoing series of investigations by the university, Culture Ministry, Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, the Education Ministry and Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, among others, concluded that the 20-year-old received special treatment throughout her entire youth.

The board of trustees at Ewha demanded the school to “eternally expel” her earlier this month.

When asked what he thought of the recent public hearings at the National Assembly, independent counsel Park replied that the witnesses “appear to be giving false testimonies on very obvious” facts.

He did not give any names.

“Seventy days is short,” said Park. “The investigation will spread in various directions.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG JIN-WOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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