+ A

Park plans to break her silence

Lawyer said she will make a brief statement prior to questioning
Mar 21,2017
이미지뷰
A photojournalist marks a photo zone with tape on which former President Park Geun-hye is supposed to stand for a brief moment when she presents herself to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office for questioning today. [YONHAP]
Before questioning by prosecutors today as a primary suspect in a massive abuse of power and corruption scandal that terminated her presidency with an impeachment, Park Geun-hye will break her silence and speak to the public, her lawyer said Monday.

“Around the time for her arrival at the prosecution, she will make public her position,” said Sohn Beom-kyu, one of Park’s laywers. “She has a prepared message.”

The National Assembly impeached Park in December for having allowed her secret inner circle, including a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to influence state affairs for their private gain. The Constitutional Court ruled on March 10 to uphold the decision and permanently removed her from office.

The special investigation team of the prosecution summoned her for questioning, making her the fourth former president to face a criminal investigation.

After the scandal broke in October, Park issued three public statements, but did not take any questions from reporters. After the impeachment, Park, as a suspended president, answered some questions from reporters on Jan. 1, only to insist on her innocence. She also held one interview to make her arguments.

Her last statement was issued on March 12, after she exited the Blue House in disgrace and returned to her home in southern Seoul. Through her former presidential spokesman, Rep. Min Kyung-wook of the Liberty Korea Party, Park issued a controversial message received as a denial of the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

“I express my gratitude to people who have supported and trusted me,” Min quoted Park as saying. “I will take all responsibility. Though it may take time, I believe the truth will eventually prevail.”

As Park is facing 13 charges, including bribery, the questioning is expected to take hours. Sources at the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo that there are more than 200 questions prepared for Park.

The prosecution said Lee One-seok, chief prosecutor of the first special investigation division, and Han Woong-jae, chief prosecutor of the eighth criminal investigation division, will question Park.

Han will mainly investigate Park about the fundraising process of the two nonprofit foundations, created and controlled jointly by Choi and Park. Park was accused of receiving bribes from conglomerates through the two pet projects. A total of 77.4 billion won ($69.2 million) was collected from 50 companies.

In an initial investigation, prosecutors concluded last year that Park and Choi coerced the companies to make the donations. An additional probe by independent counsel Park Young-soo, however, drew a different conclusion in February. Namely, that the contributions were, in fact, bribes. The team indicted Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on charges of offering bribes to Park through the two foundations and sent the rest of the cases to the prosecution for further investigation.

The outcome of Han’s probe will decide whether to prosecute Park as a bribery suspect or not, a prosecution official told the JoongAng Ilbo. Han has worked on the prosecution’s initial probe into the scandal. In Choi’s first trial in January, Han told the court that “There is overflowing evidence that Park and Choi are accomplices.”

Lee will investigate the connection between Park, Choi and Samsung. The independent counsel said Samsung’s conspicuously generous support for Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, and her equestrian training was a bribe to solidify Lee Jae-yong’s grip over the conglomerate. Samsung’s 1.6 billion won support for a youth winter sports training center will also be investigated.

Lee is a veteran prosecutor who has long investigated corporate cases involving Samsung. He investigated the illicit corporate ownership transfer using Samsung Everland in 2005 and the slush funds scandal in 2007.

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