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Park rehires lawyer for new embezzlement trial

Jan 08,2018
Former President Park Geun-hye rehired Yoo Yeong-ha as her defense lawyer on Thursday to fight new charges that she misappropriated funds from Korea’s spy agency to pay for clothes and beauty treatments.

Yoo visited Park at the Seoul Detention Center on Thursday and signed a contract to represent her, Justice Ministry officials said Friday. After their meeting, Yoo submitted a retainer agreement, endorsed with Park’s thumbprint, to the detention center.

On Thursday, the prosecution announced two additional charges of bribery and embezzlement against the impeached leader, who is already standing trial on 18 charges including receiving bribes from conglomerates and abusing the power of her office.

The prosecution said its latest investigation unearthed 3.65 billion won ($3.44 million) that Park allegedly received from the National Intelligence Service through a secret fund. Lawyers said she used large parts of the money on medical and cosmetic treatments, including energy healing therapy and injections of serum derived from human placentas, as well as cash gifts to her close confidants.

The Seoul Central District Court assigned the case to Judge Seong Chang-ho on Friday. It will be tried separately from Park’s ongoing bribery trial, where she has been charged for receiving 59.2 billion won from conglomerates through the meddling of her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.

Park has been boycotting the trial since October, describing the accusations as “political retaliation.” All of her lawyers, including Yoo, resigned from the case to protest a judge’s decision to extend her detention to April.

Although the court appointed public defenders, Park has refused to meet with them and the trial has been proceeding in her absence.

Park has argued that she never received any bribes from conglomerates and had no knowledge of her friend’s wrongdoings. Prosecutors argued that she received the money through Choi, who coerced companies to make massive donations to foundations that Choi operated.

It remains to be seen whether Park will attend the trial on the new charges, since she appointed Yoo as her lawyer. Speculation has grown that Park will more aggressively defend herself in the new case because the prosecutors made clear in the indictment that she was the receiver and user of the National Intelligence Service’s special operations fund.

Meanwhile, heads of conglomerates that made donations to Choi’s Mi-R and K-Sports foundations will testify in Park’s trial throughout this week.

The Seoul Central District Court will hear testimony on how Park demanded donations when they each had one-on-one meetings with the president. According to the court, CJ Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik will testify today.

Senior executives from SK Group and Hyundai Motor Group will attend hearings on Tuesday to testify on why the companies decided to make donations to Choi’s foundations.

Hanwha Chairman Kim Seung-youn, LG Chairman Koo Bon-moo and GS Chairman Huh Chang-soo will take the stand on Thursday.

The court had also asked Hanjin Chairman Cho Yang-ho to appear on Thursday, but Cho said he would be unable to make the session because of a business trip to the United States.

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