March 10, 2017 / 9:39 AM / 4 months ago

Friend of South Korea's impeached Park speechless with sorrow - lawyer

3 Min Read

Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the centre of the South Korean political scandal and long-time friend of President Park Geun-hye, arrives for a hearing arguments for South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, January 16, 2017.Kim Hong-Ji/Files

SEOUL (Reuters) - The woman at the centre of a South Korean influence-peddling scandal that led to the dismissal of President Park Geun-hye was lost for words with remorse on Friday and expressed her sorrow to her old friend and the country, her lawyer said.

Choi Soon-sil, Park's friend and confidante for decades, heard the news of the dismissal by the Constitutional Court from her lawyers in a trial hearing at a separate court, one of her lawyers, Lee Kyung-jae, told Reuters.

"She apologised to the president and the people for making the situation come to this," Lee said by telephone.

"Her feelings are beyond words and we keep her updated as much as we can."

Choi has been charged with pressuring big businesses to pay money to foundations that backed Park's policy initiatives. She faces additional charges of bribery over what the special prosecutor said was her collusion with Park to take bribes from corporate giant Samsung.

She, like Park, has denied wrongdoing. The Samsung Group, whose chief, Jay Y. Lee, is also facing trial over the scandal, has also denied wrongdoing.

The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said Choi looked stunned when she got news of Park's dismissal. She sat with an expressionless face and took a sip of water.

The Constitutional Court said Park had hidden the fact of Choi's meddling in state affairs, referring to one of the main reasons for Park's impeachment.

Lee said Choi did not seek to further private interests while helping set up the non-profit foundations.

Choi is being held alone in a cell and is not allowed contact with other inmates, according to the Seoul Detention Centre, where arrested politicians and corporate chiefs are usually held, among other detainees.

Fellow inmates include Samsung's Lee.

Park has played down Choi's role, saying she relied on her to run personal errands she felt uncomfortable delegating to official staff.

While prosecutors view the two as partners in crime, Park's supporters do not see anything sinister in the former president's dealings with her old friend.

One source close to Park likened Choi to a "female butler" who picked up the president's clothes.

"The constitutional court's decision was made, but it's still questionable whether that decision was fair and unbiased," lawyer Lee said. "I hope further legal proceedings will fix what's wrong and find out what is right."

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez

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