FKI admits Blue House pressure on foundations
Lee Seung-cheol, vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), acknowledged during questioning by prosecutors Friday that An Chong-bum, former Blue House senior secretary for policy coordination, told him to receive contributions from chaebol groups for the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations, the JoongAng Ilbo reported.
“I actively collected donations from conglomerates at the behest of Secretary An. He told me to pay close attention to the matter,” Lee was reportedly quoted as saying during Friday questioning.
The two foundations raised 77.4 billion won ($68.4 million) in a few days after their launches. That impressive achievement led to suspicions that Choi strong-armed conglomerates to make contributions using her connection with President Park Geun-hye through presidential secretary An.
Lee’s reported acknowledgement of An’s role also contrasts with his own statement at a parliamentary hearing on Oct.12.
During the hearing, Lee denied there had been pressure from the Blue House on companies to make contributions, claiming companies had contributed “at their discretion.”
The Mi-R Foundation received 48.6 billion won in donations from 19 conglomerates within two days of its launch October 2015; the K-Sports Foundation raised 28.8 billion won within six days of its launch in January. The foundations are now suspected to be slush funds to help sustain President Park after she leaves office.
With Lee’s testimony, prosecutors are set to summon An, whose resignation was accepted by the president Sunday, for questioning today.
Late Monday night, prosecutors placed Choi Soon-sil under emergency detention after hours of questioning, saying she might flee or destroy evidence. The prosecution also cited the possibility of Choi hurting herself if she was allowed her freedom.
By placing Choi behind bars in emergency detention at 11:57 p.m. Monday, prosecutors have 48 hours, or until 11:57 p.m. Wednesday, to file a pre-trial detention warrant to a court to keep her in jail.
Under criminal law, prosecutors can place a suspect under emergency detention if an alleged crime is grave enough to lead to a prison term of three years or more or if the suspect is deemed likely to destroy evidence or go on the lam.
A prosecutor involved in the case said prosecutors will file a pre-trial detention warrant today, which will then be reviewed by a court. The prosecutor said Choi denied accusations against her both on Monday and Tuesday.
A court reviewing the warrant will have Choi attend a review session with a lawyer to hear her defense.
With rising public disgust with the Park Geun-hye administration and Choi’s mysterious, behind-the-curtain role, a court is expected to grant the warrant.
With a pre-trial detention warrant, prosecutors have 20 days to indict Choi.
The 60-year-old Choi is facing accusations of embezzlement, breach of trust, tax evasion, violating foreign exchange laws and the acquiring of classified information from the Blue House, among others. She is also accused of pressuring Ewha Womans University to admit her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, even though her daughter failed to meet qualifications, and to give her good grades.
Ewha’s alleged special treatment of Chung has sparked outrage among people in their 20s, who go through cutthroat competition to get into well-established universities such as Ewha in an education-crazed society.
Choi was transported to the Seoul Detention Center at 2 a.m. Tuesday following 11 hours of questioning at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. She stayed in a solitary cell at the Seoul Detention Center, the authorities said.
She could face grave charges if prosecutors confirm that she was pulling strings from behind the scenes in state affairs since Park took office in February 2013.
President Park’s controversial friend was brought back to the prosecutors’ office at 10 a.m. Tuesday for a second round of questioning.
The prosecutors’ questioning of Choi, which came 31 hours after she returned to Korea Sunday morning, has generated high public interest. Reflecting that interest, local media reported Choi’s choice for dinner Monday, which was gomtang, or beef-bone soup, and that she ate most of it. “Choi Soon-sil’s gomtang” was among the most searched terms on portal sites after reports.
TV Chosun, a cable channel, put a countdown clock on its program displaying the time left for prosecutors to file a pre-trial detention warrant for Choi, which is 11:57 p.m. today.
He reportedly told authorities he came to the office to help Choi die. She told reporters a day earlier that she had “committed a sin that deserves death” and expressed her apology to the public and asked for forgiveness.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]