Ruling party lawmakers met with witness about tablet beforehand

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Ruling party lawmakers met with witness about tablet beforehand

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Ruling party lawmakers had a meeting with a close associate of Choi Soon-sil, a controversial friend of President Park Geun-hye and a central figure in the political scandal that led to Park’s impeachment, and discussed a way to challenge a key piece of evidence proving Choi’s undue influence in state affairs, the JoongAng Ilbo reported on Monday.

Rep. Choi Gyo-il of the Saenuri Party told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday that he and two other Saenuri lawmakers met with Jeong Dong-chun, chief director of the K-Sports Foundation, on Dec. 9. Reps. Yi Wan-young and Lee Man-hee attended the meeting, Choi said.

The three lawmakers are on the National Assembly’s special investigation committee, launched last month, to look into the unprecedented scandal involving the power Park gave her longtime friend, Choi, in state affairs. The committee, led by Saenuri Rep. Kim Sung-tae, has 18 members. Among them, nine are Saenuri lawmakers, six are from the Minjoo Party of Korea, two from the People’s Party and one from the Justice Party.

The three lawmakers who met with Jeong are all loyalists of Park. Jeong was the owner of a sports massage center that Choi frequently visited since 2010. At the recommendation of Choi, he was named the chief director of the foundation in May.

Choi was indicted last month on a wide rage of charges that she had exploited state affairs for personal gain in collusion with the president. She was accused of coercing conglomerates to make massive donations to two nonprofit foundations, including the K-Sports Foundation, and misappropriating the money.

“Rep. Yi said he has an informant who will talk about the tablet PC,” Choi told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “I went there, but I quickly left after flatly telling them that the tip was unreliable and unhelpful. The meeting took place on the day of the presidential impeachment, so I was not very much interested in what they were discussing. After I heard some of the stories, I concluded that it didn’t make any sense. Rep. Lee also agreed with me.”

The tablet that Choi referred to is a key piece of evidence showing Choi’s unauthorized access to confidential presidential information. JTBC, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, obtained the tablet and then produced a series of reports revealing she had influenced a wide range of state affairs, from the president’s speeches to diplomatic events.

At the end of October, Choi, who was in Germany at the time, telephoned Noh Seung-il, a senior manager of the K-Sports Foundation, and showed concern about the evidence. “This is a big deal. Unless we separate ourselves from this, we will all die,” she told Noh. Noh recorded the conversation, and the file was later revealed by Rep. Park Young-sun of the Minjoo Party of Korea at a National Assembly hearing last week.

Jeong and Yi, who were high school alumni, had their first discussion on the tablet on Dec. 4, Noh told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday. Yi ordered witnesses to commit perjury at a National Assembly hearing about the tablet PC, according to Noh, proposing that witnesses should testify that the tablet was stolen by JTBC and its owner, Ko Young-tae. Ko is a former associate of Choi, but their relationship turned sour due to her mistreatment of him.

Noh also said Jeong summoned Park Heon-yeong, a former manager of the foundation, and gave instructions on what he should say about the tablet.

At a National Assembly hearing on Dec. 7, Yi then questioned Ko about the tablet. He repeatedly asked if Ko is the owner, and Ko answered that he was not. The Saenuri Party also decided to include Park, the former foundation manager, on the witness list at the upcoming hearing session.

On Dec. 8, Yi and Jeong had a telephone conversation. They met again on Dec. 9, and Reps. Lee and Choi accompanied Yi.

Ko gave an interview to the Monthly JoongAng on Dec. 13, saying that a witness will commit perjury at the upcoming National Assembly hearing when a Saenuri lawmaker asks question about the tablet PC. At the hearing on Dec. 15, Rep. Lee asked Park about the tablet. Park testified that Ko was the owner, but later admitted it was Choi.

The JoongAng Ilbo reported Monday Jeong tried to salvage the foundation by lobbying lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“I met with the Saenuri lawmaker, the chief negotiator of the party on the Special Investigation Committee, on Sunday, [Dec. 4,] and sought his favor in the operation of the foundation,” Jeong said, according to a recording of his conversation with foundation workers. The conversation took place on Dec. 7, and a recording was provided to the JoongAng Ilbo by a foundation official.

At the time, the Saenuri Party’s chief negotiator on the committee was Rep. Yi. On Dec. 14, he said he wanted to resign from the post because he faced unbearable insults from opposition supporters.

But he resumed his job representing the ruling party on the committee on Tuesday, despite accusations against him. The committee held a chief negotiator meeting to address the perjury scandal, and Yi attended the meeting as the chief Saenuri negotiator.

The opposition counterparts protested, but Yi insisted he is innocent. Stressing that he never ordered perjury, Yi also said meeting witnesses before a hearing is a common practice of all lawmakers and the opposition representatives have also done so.

The record file also showed that Jeong contacted an opposition politician. He said he asked favors from a Minjoo lawmaker to protect the foundation. He also said he is doing his best to “create a new political party and recruit UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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