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Park took NIS’s money for treatments and clothes

Jan 05,2018
Former President Park Geun-hye misappropriated large amounts of money from the country’s spy agency to pay for her clothes and beauty treatments, the prosecution said Thursday.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it will add two additional charges of bribery and embezzlement in the case against the impeached and removed leader, who is already standing trial on 18 charges including receiving bribes from big companies and abusing her office’s power.

The prosecution said it discovered that the former president received a total of 3.65 billion won ($3.44 million) in alleged bribes from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) during her tenure.

She received a monthly bribe from the NIS from May 2013 through July 2016, the prosecution said. The amounts varied from 50 million won to 200 million won, and 3.5 billion won in total was directly paid to her from the NIS’s special operations accounts. Three NIS chiefs whom Park appointed - Nam Jae-joon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Byung-ho - all sanctioned the payments, the prosecution said.

Park also ordered NIS Chief Lee Byung-ho to pay 150 million won from the special operations account to then-Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Won-jong from June to August 2016.

Special operations accounts exist for almost all government offices for activities that require confidentiality. Because no receipts are required, the accounts are often used for non-official purposes.

According to the prosecution, Park spent more than 339.5 million won for illegal medical and cosmetic treatments such as energy healing therapy and injections of serums derived from human placentas. Another 12.5 million won was spent for secret mobile phones that Park and her confidantes including Choi Soon-sil used and 13 million won was spent to maintain her private residence in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.

Choi, Park’s longtime friend, is also standing trial as Park’s co-conspirator for allegedly forcing conglomerates to pay massive bribes to foundations that she operated.

The prosecution said it believes Choi was involved in Park’s personal spending. It presented a memo handwritten by Choi that detailed cash gifts given to Park’s aides before holidays and vacations. More than 970 million won was given as cash gifts to Lee Jae-man, An Bong-geun, Jeong Ho-seong and Park’s bodyguard, Lee Yeong-seon.

“We had a limit in laying bare all the details of where she spent the money, because the bribes were given in cash and Park and Choi refused to answer our questions,” a prosecution official said. “So we are only announcing the facts based on testimonies and objective data.”

According to the prosecution, Lee Jae-man and Jeong picked up the NIS funds and made monthly deliveries to Park at her Blue House residence. About 1.5 billion won was kept in a safe in Lee’s office, while Park kept 2 billion won.

The prosecution suspected that some of the money Park kept was handed over to a dressmaker Choi arranged to make the president’s clothes.

The prosecution obtained statements from Lee and Park’s former bodyguard Lee Yeong-seon that Choi was present when they handed Park shopping bags stuffed with money. Lee Yeong-seon also told the prosecution that Park had ordered him to hand a bag of money to Choi’s driver.

The prosecutors, however, failed to verify how much of the NIS funds were given to Choi, because both Park and Choi refused questioning.

Meanwhile, two loyalists of Park, Reps. Choi Kyung-hwan and Lee Woo-hyun of the Liberty Korea Party, were taken into the prosecution’s custody early in the morning on two separate bribery charges.

Choi, one of the closest associates of Park, was accused of receiving 100 million won from the NIS’s secret funds in 2014. At the time, Choi was deputy prime minister for the economy and finance minister.

Lee was suspected of receiving over 1 billion won in bribes from 20 politicians and businessmen in his district.

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