‘Totally framed’: South Korean President Park Geun-hye denies any wrongdoing, plays down aide’s influence
Park is accused of colluding with close friend Choi Soon-sil to strong-arm big companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars to dubious foundations which Choi controlled
South Korea’s impeached President Park Geun-hye on Sunday repeated denials of involvement in a snowballing corruption scandal and said rumours have been “getting out of hand”, Yonhap news agency reported.
“Rumours, stories and broadcasts have been distorted and false information has been getting out of hand,” she was quoted as telling reporters at the presidential Blue House.
Parliament voted on December 9 to impeach Park over the scandal. She is accused of colluding with close friend Choi Soon-sil to strong-arm big companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars to dubious foundations which Choi controlled.
Park denied the accusations, saying she was “totally framed,” according to Yonhap.
“The matter is under investigation, so I can’t make detailed explanations that might put both sides in trouble, but what I can assure you is that I have never conspired with anyone or did anything to give favours to someone, not even by a bit,” Yonhap quoted Park as saying.
Choi is now on trial for coercion and abuse of power, largely related to the corporate funding of the two foundations which she allegedly plundered.
The impeachment case is being considered by the constitutional court – which has up to six months to reach a ruling – but hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have joined weekly protests calling for Park’s immediate departure from office.
If the impeachment is confirmed, a presidential election will have to be held within 60 days.
Park also allegedly ordered aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowed her to meddle in state affairs including the appointment of top officials.
Since the scandal came to light, Park had apologised several times for her conduct in tearful televised addresses. She admitted seeking advice from Choi on some presidential speeches and PR material at the beginning of her term in 2013.
Media reports have depicted Choi as having a “Rasputin-like” influence over Park, saying she controlled everything from the president’s wardrobe to crucial decisions on state affairs – allegations denied by Park.
“I have known Choi for decades. But that doesn’t mean that she has access to everything,” Yonhap quoted Park as saying, citing her “duties as president”.
Park’s rare meeting with reporters was her first public appearance since she was suspended from executive duties. The country has a temporary leader, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.
A former health ministry official was arrested on Saturday over suspicions that he forced the National Pension Service to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year.
The deal shaved the fund’s stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars, but allowed Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong to promote a father-to-son succession of leadership and increase the group’s corporate wealth.
Investigators are trying to confirm whether Park instructed government officials to help the merger go through and then had them press Samsung to provide Choi money and favours.
The constitutional court’s first hearing on the impeachment is scheduled for Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Associated Press