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President had 600 calls with Choi last year

Feb 16,2017
President Park Geun-hye used a secret mobile phone and had nearly 600 conversations with her controversial friend Choi Soon-sil last year, and dozens of the calls were placed even after the scandal broke over the power she gave Choi, special prosecutors said Wednesday.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and his team made the claim during a hearing at the Seoul Administrative Court. The investigators’ attempt to search and seize evidence inside the Blue House on Feb. 3, was blocked by presidential aides, who said the compound is a military installation and stores state secrets. The investigators asked the administrative court on Feb. 10 to lift the Blue House’s block of the raid.

During the hearing, the independent counsel team said Park and Choi used mobile phones, registered under borrowed names, and talked hundreds times.

Park had 590 phone conversations with Choi at home and abroad by using the phone from April to October 2016, Kim Dae-hyun, a lawyer representing the independent counsel team, said before the court.

Among the calls, 127 were made while Choi was in Germany after the media started reporting about the scandal. Kim also said that the contracts for both phones were started on the same day.

After JTBC reported about suspicions involving Choi’s influence over state affairs, using a tablet PC it obtained from Choi’s abandoned office, Park gave a message to Choi’s elder sister that Choi should return to Korea. “Choi’s niece Jang Si-ho testified about this,” Kim said.

Kim said Choi’s sister used a phone, registered under the name of Yun Jeon-chu, a Blue House staffer who worked on Park’s personal affairs, to talk to Park. Park told Choi’s sister what she wanted to tell Choi.

“We are confident that the evidences to prove our suspicions is inside the Blue House compound,” said Kim. “If we are blocked from raiding the Blue House, investigating the scandal involving Park’s power given to Choi is extremely difficult.”

The Blue House argued that the independent counsel made a wrongful choice by taking the issue to the administrative court. It said criminal law is separate from public law and civil law and the independent counsel needed to resolve its issue within the jurisdiction of criminal law, not through an administrative litigation using public law.

After hearing from both sides, the court asked them to submit any additional positions they have by midnight. Speculations were once high that the court would rule on the case on Wednesday because of the time constraints on the independent counsel, whose investigation will end on Feb. 28.

But the court made clear that it will need time for- a serious deliberation because the ruling will set a precedent that will possibly affect many other situations.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]