Former economic czar claims Park told him to collect money

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Former economic czar claims Park told him to collect money

President Park Geun-hye’s former economic policy czar testified Monday that Park had notified him of the specific amounts of donations to be collected from each conglomerate for nonprofit foundations allegedly controlled by her controversial friend.

The Constitutional Court held its fifth hearing Monday on Park’s impeachment trial, and An Chong-bum, former policy coordination senior secretary, admitted to many charges against him and the president. In November, the prosecution’s special investigation team indicted An and Choi Soon-sil, Park’s longtime friend, and named Park a co-conspirator in all the crimes.

Choi was prosecuted on charges of abuse of power, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud and An on charges of abuse of power, coercion and attempted coercion. They were accused of coercing 53 companies to donate 77.4 billion won ($65.76 million) to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations, which were practically controlled by Choi.

Park was impeached in December for having allowed her secret inner circle, including Choi, to abuse power. Although Choi rejected most of the corruption charges before the Constitutional Court on Monday, An made some admissions.

The National Assembly’s impeachment committee questioned An about his memo, recorded in July 2015, which said, “Hyundai Motor 30+30 6 billion won, CJ 30+30 6 billion won.”

“Was it a record of Park’s order?” the committee, which acts as the prosecution in the impeachment trial, asked An.

“Yes,” he replied, “she ordered me to raise funds from other companies based on those amounts.”

Until now, Park has said the companies made donations voluntarily to her pet projects.

An also testified about the Lotte Group’s conspicuous dealing with the K-Sports Foundation. The conglomerate donated an additional 7 billion won, but received the money back on the eve of the prosecution’s raid in June last year. Suspicions were raised that the money was a bribe intended to stop a criminal investigation into the group, but was returned because it failed to serve that purpose.

“Since April last year,” An said, “I recommended the president to stop [collecting more funds], and Park told me that it would be better to give back the money.”

He also admitted that Park and other Blue House aides agreed to forge a story to cover up the corruption scandal.

“Did you meet with the president and Woo Byung-woo, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, in October last year and agree to coordinate statements that the president proposed the foundations in February and July in 2015 at meetings with tycoons and the Federation of the Korean Industries raised the funds voluntarily?” the impeachment committee asked.

An replied, “I do recall.”

An, however, denied that he abused his power. He said he never thought following Park’s orders constituted an abuse of power.

An also gave specific testimony that Park had a secret dealing with the SK Group to arrange a presidential pardon for its chairman, Chey Tae-won, who had then served two years and seven months of a four-year prison term for embezzlement and corporate malpractice. An said SK Innovation Chairman Kim Chang-geun, who was leading the group in the absence of Chey, made the proposal first.

An also said Park ordered him to inform the SK Group in advance about her decision to pardon Chey. When the presidential pardon was announced on Aug. 13, 2015, Kim sent An a text message that read, “We are forever indebted to you and will do our best to serve the country by leading an economic recovery.”

SK Group said Monday that Chey was imprisoned for two years and seven months, and executives of the group made various appeals to end the management vacuum as soon as possible.

The Constitutional Court continued its sixth hearing on Tuesday, but none of the witnesses summoned showed up. Unable to question witnesses, the judges reviewed evidence submitted by the impeachment committee and Park’s lawyers.

While the prosecution’s investigation reports on An and other Blue House officials were accepted, the court decided not to use the probe report on Choi as evidence, based on Park’s lawyers’ objection.

The court, however, decided to use the testimonies of tycoons of conglomerates that paid money to the foundations after having exclusive meetings with the president. The testimonies of Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Chairman Chey and Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin were submitted as evidence.

BY SER MYO-JA, SEO JUN-SUK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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