Choi dodges questioning again

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Choi dodges questioning again

An independent counsel investigating the abuse of power that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye said it will take all necessary legal measures to question her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, who continues to avoid questioning.

Citing “psychological shock” from her daughter’s arrest, Choi turned down the latest summons by Independent Counsel Park Young-soo. “We asked her to appear by 2 p.m., but she sent a document saying she cannot attend the session due to psychological shock,” a source on the investigation team said.

After 20 days of preparations, Park and his team formally launched a 70-day probe on Dec. 21. Choi was interrogated once by the team on Dec. 24, but has repeatedly turned down requests for further questioning.

Choi claimed she is in shock over the arrest of her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra. Chung, who has been in Europe since the so-called Choi-gate scandal broke out, was arrested in Denmark on Sunday.

The independent counsel said it will obtain a warrant to force Choi to show up for questioning. Choi was indicted with pretrial detention in November on charges of abuse of power, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud. The prosecution named the president as a co-conspirator of the crimes, but could not indict her because of presidential immunity.

Jeong Ho-seong, former presidential secretary, submitted to the independent counsel probe Thursday afternoon. Jeong, who worked for the president for 18 years, is being prosecuted on charges of leaking confidential information to Choi that was obtained through his public duties.

It was the independent counsel’s second questioning of Jeong, following an initial grilling on Dec. 25.

The interrogation came as the independent counsel raided the cells of major suspects in the Choi scandal who are in detention, including Jeong, to probe their alleged coordination of statements and evidence destruction.

Jeong was also questioned after JTBC aired a series of reports revealing Choi’s influence over Park based on recorded conversations Jeong had with the president and Choi. JTBC, a broadcast affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, aired the exclusive reports Wednesday evening.

The prosecution raided Jeong’s home on Oct. 19, and confiscated two mobile phones. The investigators restored 236 files of recorded conversations from the phones, and 12 of them, which lasted about 28 minutes in total, provided evidence of Choi’s alleged influence over Park.

Without revealing how it obtained the files, JTBC said prosecutors looked into the recorded conversations and offered the data to the independent counsel.

In one of the reports, JBTC said Choi was behind the Park administration’s crisis management.

In 2013, prosecutors were investigating an allegation that the National Intelligence Service had influenced the presidential election to help Park win. Yun Seok-yeol, a senior prosecutor in charge of the probe, made a bombshell revelation in October 2013 during a National Assembly hearing that his investigation was obstructed by higher authorities. Yun is currently working for the independent counsel team.

After the revelation, then-Prime Minister Chung Hong-won issued an address to the nation on Oct. 28, 2013, the first since he took the office a week earlier.

A conversation between Jeong and Choi on Oct. 27, 2013, showed that Choi influenced the statement, JTBC said. “There is Plan 1 and Plan 2, and we have 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” Jeong was quoted as telling Choi. “We will go for the morning,” Choi replied.

Jeong expressed concerns about the timing, but the statement was released as Choi ordered at 10 a.m. the next day.

Another conversation between Jeong and President Park on Oct. 27, 2013, demonstrated that Choi was involved in not only the scheduling of the prime minister’s speech, but also the contents.

According to the JBTC report, President Park told Jeong that she had received the materials for the statement and said, “What should we do? We have to conclude it fast. The announcement is tomorrow.” Jeong replied that he had received materials from then-public affairs senior secretary Lee Jung-hyun.

“Then do it fast,” Park told Jeong, the report said. Jeong, then, said, “I discussed it with Madam [Choi], and she said there are some inappropriate parts, so she made her own message.”

In another report by JTBC, Choi also persuaded Park to address the issue personally. On Oct. 25, 2013, the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea demanded the Blue House lay bare the truth about the intelligence authority’s manipulation of public opinion during the presidential campaign and punish those responsible. Park, however, remained silent about the issue.

Two days after the opposition’s demand, Choi made an order to Jeong in another recorded conversation quoted by JTBC.

“What are you going to do about it?” Choi said.

Jeong replied, “Do you have any special opinion about this?”

Choi said “It seems too awkward if we don’t touch it at all,” and said the president must make public her position.

“There are four issues. Apology, dismissal and clear response based on law and principle,” Choi continued.

Five days later, Park broke her silence and formally commented on the crisis. In her remarks at a senior secretariat meeting on Oct. 31, 2013, Park said, “The scandal will be investigated clearly based on law and principle,” Park said. “Fair and necessary measures will be taken based on the court’s judgment.”

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

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