World

Korea's Rasputin: I face 'unfairness'

Friend of impeached South Korean President in court for corruption case

SEOUL: The woman known as South Korea's Rasputin told a court yesterday that she faces "much unfairness" and again denied criminal charges filed against her.

Choi Soon Sil, 60, is a friend of impeached South Korean President Park Geun Hye, 64, and is at the centre of a corruption scandal.

She is charged with pressuring big businesses to pay money to two foundations that backed Ms Park's policy initiatives.

"I am facing much unfairness," she told the court.

Choi, in custody since late October, had declined to appear for questioning at the special prosecutor's office multiple times, including on Wednesday.

Former presidential aides An Chong Bum and Jeong Ho Seong were in court alongside Choi. They too face charges including misuse of power.

Choi has known Ms Park for four decades. "There was no collusion between my client, Ms Park and An. There is no truth in saying the accused (Choi) was involved in collecting funds for foundations from conglomerates," Mr Lee Kyung Jae, Choi's lead lawyer, told the court.

"The accused has not sought one bit of financial gain for herself since the day the foundations were established."

The scandal has also led to the arrest of the chief of the national pension fund, Moon Hyung Pyo, after he acknowledged he pressured it into approving a US$8 billion (S$11 billion) merger between two Samsung affiliates in 2015.

FAVOURS

Prosecutors are also trying to ascertain whether Samsung Electronics sought favours from Choi and Park in return for funding some of their initiatives.

No Samsung employees have been accused of wrongdoing.

Choi's daughter, Miss Chung Yoo Ra, is in custody in Denmark, where she was arrested on Sunday after being sought by South Korean authorities, who are seeking her extradition.

Miss Chung is a 20-year-old equestrian competitor who trained in Germany and has been accused by South Korea's special prosecutor of criminal interference related to her academic record and other unspecified charges.

"(Choi) is here in spite of her situation and amid a difficult time when she is not aware what may happen to her daughter who has been locked up," her lawyer told the court.

Ms Park's powers have been suspended since Dec 9 when she was impeached in parliament.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn is serving as acting president while the Constitutional Court deliberates whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment.

If the Constitutional Court upholds parliament's decision, she will be the first democratically-elected South Korean leader to leave office early. 
- REUTERS

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