World

Lawmakers vote to impeach Park

More than 60 in President Park Geun Hye's party backed removing her

SEOUL: South Korean lawmakers voted overwhelmingly yesterday to impeach President Park Geun Hye, 64, over an influence-peddling scandal, setting the stage for her to become the country's first elected leader to be expelled from office in disgrace.

The impeachment motion was carried by a wider-than-expected 234-56 margin in a secret ballot in Parliament.

This means more than 60 of Ms Park's own conservative Saenuri Party members backed her removal.

The votes of least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass, Reuters reported.

"I solemnly accept the voice of the Parliament and the people and sincerely hope this confusion is soundly resolved," Ms Park said at a meeting with her Cabinet, adding that she would comply with the court's proceedings as well as an investigation by a special prosecutor.

DENY

Mr Park, who is serving a single five-year term that was set to end in February 2018, has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with her close friend Choi Soon Sil, 60.

Ms Choi is now awaiting trial on charges of fraud and abuse of power, AFP reported.

The televised hearing into the massive political scandal had turned into a daily drama fix for millions of South Koreans.

They were riveted by its moveable cast of pampered tycoons, tough-talking lawmakers and an oddly heroic toyboy.

The sessions provided moments of drama, but it was a young, obscure fashion designer with a slightly dodgy past as a male escort, who stole the show with his accounts of Ms Choi's personal life and the influence she wielded over Park.

While most of the tycoons and senior officials stayed as tight-lipped as possible under questioning, Mr Koh Young Tae, 40, stood out with his candid testimony.

He described how Ms Choi had treated Ms Park's former deputy sports minister as her "personal assistant" and how clothing and bags he provided Ms Choi were selected for Ms Park's official wardrobe.

Mr Koh said: "When I was running a bag manufacturing company called Villomillo, my friend asked me to bring some new items (to a designated place), so I did.

"That's when I saw Ms Choi for the first time."

At her request, he supplied about 30 to 40 bags and 100 clothing items for Ms Park, reported Korea Times.

According to media reports, the former fencer and Asian Games gold medallist was a part-time gigolo when he befriended Ms Choi.

Mr Koh denied being romantically involved with her, but admitted that the two had been close to the point where she often visited his home - until a puppy soured their ties.

He said: "Choi asked me in 2014 to take care of her daughter's puppy briefly... and came to my home when I left it alone in the house to go out to play golf.

"She was upset that I left the dog alone in the house, so we had a huge fight."

He said their relationship fell apart as a result.

The spat is now seen as key to unravelling the whole scandal, as a disgruntled Mr Koh tipped off reporters about Ms Choi's hold over Ms Park, which extended to her editing the presidential speeches.

The most high-profile witness to be called so far has been Mr Lee Jae Yong, the heir apparent to the chairmanship of South Korea's largest conglomerate, Samsung.

His testimony regarding donations made to foundations controlled by Ms Choi had been widely anticipated, but many viewers ended up being more fascinated with his lips than his words.

BOMBARDED

While being bombarded with questions, Mr Lee was seen surreptitiously applying balm to his chapped lips from time to time.

South Korean online sellers instantly rushed to promote the product - a two-dollar stick called Softlips from a US cosmetics maker - as "Lee Jae-Yong lip balm".

It promptly began trending on social media and South Korean search engines.

Mr Cha Eun Taek, a director who made music videos for Gangnam Style star Psy, said Ms Choi had once asked him to recommend potential candidates for culture minister and a presidential adviser on culture.

The names he put forward to Ms Choi ended up getting the jobs.

"So I thought... 'What kind of person could possibly do something like this?'" Mr Cha told lawmakers.- WIRES

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