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Key witness refuses to testify about Park-Choi ties in impeachment trial


President Park Geun-hye’s bodyguard remained quiet on key issues surrounding Park’s relationship to her close confidante Choi Soon-sil and her alleged negligence of duty over the 2014 ferry disaster citing national security and confidentiality clause, during the impeachment trial on Thursday.

The Constitutional Court dismissed the stated reasons as unjustifiable, warning that the refusal could be seen as an attempt to conceal something fishy. 

During the fourth hearing of the historic trial, Lee Young-sun, the presidential office’s administrative staff in charge of Park’s security, refused to confirm how many times Choi and Park’s other confidants secretly visited her at the presidential office. Park’s friend of 40 years, Choi is at the center of a massive corruption scandal which led to Park‘s impeachment by the parliament on Dec. 9.

Lee Young-sun, the presidential office’s administrative staff in charge of Park’s security, arrives at the court (Yonhap) “Whether Choi entered the presidential office is not a national secret. Why should the number of times Choi visited Cheong Wa Dae be kept a secret?” said Kang Il-won, the lead justice of the Constitutional Court. “If it is not related to your or your family’s crime, you should testify. The issues surrounding Choi are a crucial point here.” 

Lee, suspected of driving Choi in and out of Cheong Wa Dae and closely assisting her, did not confirm whether he saw Choi at the presidential office, saying “I cannot reveal anything related to my job.” 

Justice Lee Jeong-mi accused him of committing “perjury” when he denied driving Choi into the presidential office, citing a text message exchanged between him and an arrested ex-presidential aide, Jeong Ho-seong, who is charged with leaking government secrets to Choi. 

In the text message, discovered on Jeong’s phone, Lee said that “Choi is coming in,” which alleges that Choi is coming into the presidential office — possibly escorted by him. 

But Lee admitted that he had first met Choi sometime around the 2012 presidential election and met her several times at a dressmaker’s shop in southern Seoul while picking up clothes for Park until early 2016. 

Allegations have suggested that Lee carried Park’s close friends including Choi and unauthorized doctors on his car to pass them through the presidential office without having their identities checked. 

Lee also appeared to overturn his earlier testimony given during the prosecutorial questioning that he has never delivered money to Choi on behalf of Park. Park have been suspected of not paying for her own clothes, which could constitute bribery. 

The hearing comes amid growing frustration over the court proceedings being delayed due to the continued absence of key witnesses and their reluctance to give detailed testimonies.

Other than the ongoing impeachment trial, Park is facing an investigation by an independent counsel over suspicions that she conspired with Choi and ex-presidential aide An Chong-bum to extort donations and favors from local conglomerates. 

Choi’s niece and close assoicates are all being tried for criminal charges including attempted fraud, abuse of power and coercion. 

President Park and the accused — Choi, An and Jeong — are all denying their charges and even questioning the validity and legitimacy of major pieces of evidence, in what critics see as a tactic to prolong the court proceedings at the Constitutional Court.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

Article source: http://view.koreaherald.com/kh/view.php?ud=20170112000799