Choi, Prisoner No. 628, is questioned in jail cell but remains uncooperative
Choi was detained after being charged with abuse of power, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud. The parliamentary investigation committee visited her on Monday after she refused to attend the committee’s hearings three times.
“I am ready to accept a life sentence,” Choi reportedly told the committee, which includes Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Sung-tae, who chairs the committee, and the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea Rep. Park Young-sun.
The lawmakers could meet Choi only after an hour and a half of dealing with detention center authorities who refused to let them see her.
The committee members reached an agreement with the Ministry of Justice and the center to hold a closed-door meeting with Choi, without filming or recording the interrogation.
To the committee’s questions of whether Choi knew former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, former presidential senior secretary for policy coordination An Chong-bum, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo and his mother-in-law, with whom Choi is alleged to have been closely acquainted, Choi answered, “I don’t know them.”
Yet during An’s meeting with committee members on Monday at the detention center in Yeongdeungpo District, southern Seoul, An said he “met Choi,” though he added that he was not aware of any illicit activity.
Choi denied the charges outlined in her indictment.
One of the crucial pieces of evidence concerning her alleged meddling in state affairs was a tablet PC found in the office of Ko Young-tae, Choi’s confidant and former head of The Blue K, who had fallen out with her.
The tablet, first obtained by JTBC, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, and handed over to the prosecution, contained top state documents. According to the broadcaster, Choi had access to as many as 44 presidential speeches before Park delivered them, including Park’s address in Dresden in 2014.
“I used a laptop not a tablet,” Choi reportedly told lawmakers on Monday. “I first saw the tablet in 2012 and I don’t even know how to use it. I have not used it ever since I found out Microsoft Word cannot run on it.”
Choi is also accused of coercing conglomerates to donate 77.4 billion won ($64.2 million) to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations, which Choi practically headed herself.
“I didn’t come up with that idea,” she told lawmakers.
Choi also refuted the testimony of her niece, Jang Si-ho, who said Choi was the person who masterminded the deal by which Samsung Electronics allegedly helped found a sports foundation controlled by Jang with an investment of 1.6 billion won.
“I gave my answer to the prosecutors,” Choi said. “I have never asked Samsung for the funding.”
Choi also denied allegations by Cha Eun-taek, Choi’s confidant and a culture mogul, that Choi influenced the nominations of Kim Jong-deok, former culture minister, and Kim Sang-ryul, former senior presidential secretary for education and culture.
“I know Cha, but the statement is not true,” she said.
Choi is also accused of having some 800 billion won worth of hidden assets in Germany.
“That is not true,” Choi said, “I have zero assets in Germany.”
When asked if it would be okay for the government to seize any and all of her assets found in Germany, Choi reportedly said, “Do it if you can.”
She also denied that her daughter was granted a freeride to Ewha Womans University by using her mother’s ties. After the Ministry of Education inspection confirmed the allegation to be true, it requested the university to invalidate her degree.
“My daughter was accepted to that university under fair conditions,” Choi said. “There was no special treatment.”
When asked how she felt about the president and her predicament, Choi said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Their friendship reportedly dates back to 1979. Park was named an accomplice in Choi’s indictment and faces the judgment of the Constitutional Court after the National Assembly impeached her earlier this month.
Park’s impeachment motion addressed Park’s alleged malfeasance during the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014.
In response to the question of whether Choi spoke on the phone with Park on the day the ferry sank, Choi reportedly told lawmakers, “I can’t even remember what happened yesterday, so how on earth would I remember what happened on that day?”
Meanwhile, lawmakers of the parliamentary investigation committee also questioned Jeong Ho-seong, Park’s personal secretary for 18 years, and An Chong-bum, at a detention center in southern Seoul. Jeong, indicted for leaking state secrets to Choi, admitted leaking information to her in 2015.
“I sent Choi some information,” Jeong reportedly told lawmakers in response to whether he leaked information to Choi in 2015.
He confirmed allegations that Choi meddled in personnel appointments at the Blue house and government agencies.
“I had to get the nomination list checked and edited by Choi,” Jeong reportedly told lawmakers during his questioning on Monday. “Since Choi didn’t have an official position, she never made reports directly to Kim Ki-Choon or Woo Byung-woo.”
Jeong gave a vague answer as to what Park was doing on April 16, 2014, the day the Sewol ferry sank.
“I can’t remember if I saw the president or if I had talked to her on the internal phone [after lunch around 2 p.m.],” he said. “She had quite a free schedule on April 16, but she was quite tired and she stayed at the presidential residence.”
He added, “I called the hairdresser. I called her in the morning because I thought the president may have to attend a meeting at the national disaster response center. I cannot say what she did at the presidential residence. I don’t know what she did because I didn’t care to find out.”
Jeong also refused to comment on whether Park frequently received beauty treatments such as vitamin injections.
An, however, told lawmakers that he “moved completely under the direction of President Park” to pressure conglomerates to fund the two foundations linked to Choi.
“It was all under the president’s order,” he said.
BY PARK YU-MI, CHAE YOON-KYUNG [email@example.com]