VOLUME XLII NO.12
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Scandal
Scandal
 
S. Korea’s Constitutional Court Began Preparations for The Impeachment Trial of Pres. Park Geun-hye
Choi Soon-sil Scandal - S. Korea's Biggest Political Crisis
Choi Soon-sil
Choi Soon-sil, a 60-year-old civilian, faces a range of allegations, from bribery, blackmail and illegal use of public funds to a violation of law on presidential documents. Choi, the daughter of Choi Tae-min, a self-proclaimed pastor who later founded his own religion, is a decades-old friend of President Park Geun-hye.
The relationship between Park and Choi dates back more than 40 years to 1974, when the then 22-year-old Park was grieving the loss of her mother to a bullet meant for her father, military strongman Park Chung Hee. Five years later, her father was assassinated by his intelligence chief. It was not the first time she has been on the hot seat for her relationship with the Choi family.
On Dec, 28, 2016, Choi Soon-sil told a group of lawmakers visiting her at the detention facility that she committed no crimes, denying all allegations surrounding her. Choi, who is currently detained for trial on allegations that she used her ties to Park to manipulate state affairs, is the central figure in a sweeping cronyism scandal that led to the President's impeachment earlier this month [December 9].
"When I first came back from Germany, I was ready to abide by any punishment, but now that I have faced interrogations and (false) charges, I only feel that I should clarify myself," she mumbled in front of some 150 spectators in the courtroom. "I am sorry for causing trouble. I will sincerely go through the trial," she said. "Eight of the allegations raised by the prosecution are that she colluded with the President," Choi's lawyer Lee Kyung-jae said. "As she did not collude with the President, she cannot be found guilty of the charges."
She is also suspected of manipulating state affairs behind the scenes, exerting influence over the culture, education and sports sectors, getting her daughter accepted into a prestigious university and monopolizing lucrative state-led projects for her paper companies.
The Choi Soon-sil scandal is increasingly putting foreign and security policymakers in the spotlight, amid a growing trail of allegations she may have meddled in key diplomatic initiatives, the selection of highlevel posts and major defense procurement projects.
Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the center of the scandal dominating South Korean politics, is now in custody and faces allegations of exerting undue influence over President Park in state policies and projects. The scandal is South Korea's biggest political crisis in years, with citizens demanding Park's removal from office.
Choi is being investigated for a wide range of influence-peddling allegations. One is that she used her ties with Park to solicit some tens of billions of won in donations from conglomerates - including Samsung and Hyundai - to set up two nonprofit foundations in the name of supporting cultural and sports projects. She is also accused of meddling in state affairs and receiving regular reports on confidential information.
According to the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office, 19 business groups raised a combined KRƒ 48.6 billion (US$43 million) for the Mir Foundation and KRƒ 28.8 billion for the K-Sports Foundation. The groups said they voluntarily gave money at the request of the FKI, adding they were told that the money would be used to finance diverse cultural and sportsrelated projects.
The business leaders were to be asked whether the President demanded them to provide funds for the operations of two controversial foundations led by Choi Soon-sil. The focus of the investigation was to find out whether Park was involved with the foundations, but it can be shifted also to the businesses if their donations were made in exchange for business favors, according to legal sources.

South Koreans tuned into the parliamentary hearing of the country's nine biggest corporations with shame and embarrassment, as the nation's business leaders looked solemn and agitated. The owners of conglomerates attended a public hearing by the National Assembly to be grilled about suspicious connections between them and President Park's confidante Choi Soon-sil.
In the biggest-ever parliamentary questioning of the nation's industrial figures, nine chaebol chiefs are set to take the stand at the National Assembly December 6, to answer questions over their relationship with President Park and Choi Soon-sil.
It is the first time in South Korea's modern history that the top chaebol leaders will be brought together in a televised parliamentary hearing to face questions over their allegedly cozy ties with politics and power, a topic that has mostly been considered taboo.
None of them are charged with irregularities, but they are expected to face questions to determine whether they were victims or beneficiaries of the Park administration's alleged corruption. But questions remain how the parliamentary grilling will play out. Some fear it may devolve into a forum for political grandstanding or become an opportunity for businesses to address public discontent on their relationship with the government.
The hearing is the largest ever also in significance. Korean chaebol led South Korea's fast economic growth in the 70s and 80s under the support of military governments led by Park's father, President Park Chung Hee. Because of this, summoning chaebol owners to open parliamentary hearings has been considered risky, and chaebol often ignored calls to attend, citing business schedules.
The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) is facing mounting calls to disband following revelations that it spearheaded the collection of nearly KRƒ 80 billion from members for two foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye's longtime confidant.
The four major conglomerates Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG have paid a combined KRƒ 20 billion a year, which accounted for half of all membership fees the FKI collects from about 600 members.
So if the major conglomerates refuse to pay their dues, the business lobby has no other choice but to crumble through a lack of funding. FKI Chairman Huh Chang-soo's term will expire in February, but there is no one yet to succeed him.
Established in 1961, the FKI has been touted for its contribution to Korea's economic development through its role of conveying the views of the business community to the government. But it has earned notoriety for raising funds from conglomerates according to the nation's longstanding collusive links between politics and business, as has been revealed in the Choi scandal.
The leaders of the nine major Korean conglomerates denied allegations that their "donations" to two foundations controlled by President Park's confidant Choi were in return for business favors, during a National Assembly hearing.
South Korea's most powerful businessmen were summoned by the prosecution over the weekend to answer questions about their alleged closed-door meetings with President Park last year. The move comes amid deepening suspicions over their dubious ties with the nation's troubled leader, who is at the center of an influence-peddling scandal involving her longtime friend.
Historically, chaebol play the role of victim, being forced to pay dues to those in power reluctantly and haplessly and the public buys their pleas of innocence. But the latest case should be the end of this old playbook story. Now, they have grown big enough for some of them to become global firms.
They should start to learn how to act according to their size and bring transparency to global standards. If they can't do this on their own, changes - their current ownership structure included - should be forced upon them.

South Korea's Constitutional Court on December 12 began preparations for the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye, holding the first assembly of its justices. The meeting was attended by eight of the nine judges, including Kang Il-won, who will lead the coming trial as head justice. They discussed the formation of a task force, the hearings schedule and other related issues, the court's spokesperson said.
The court then convened an emergency meeting of justices to discuss its hearing plan. It said the first may begin as early as the end of the month. The court named Judge Kang Il-won as the chief justice of the case. The court also requested the President to submit her written defense by December 16, a preliminary step before hearings.
Some observers say it may be difficult for the court to make a ruling before the investigation is concluded, as the allegations are yet to be confirmed as true. The court's previous ruling on the impeachment of former President Roh Moo-hyun was different in that the facts had already been established when the ruling took place. It took only 63 days.
At least seven justices of the ninemember panel are required to make a ruling, and at least six of them need to support the impeachment for it to be accepted. However, two members' terms will expire in January and March, respectively. The President holds the right to appoint the justices, but she has been suspended from duty. But it is not clear whether the Prime Minister, the acting President, will be able to appoint new judges.
Of the nine, seven are considered to be right-leaning and pro-government. They are those appointed by President Park, her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, the conservative governing party, or the chief justice of Supreme Court, who was named by Park or Lee. Such a composition - different from the equivalent system in other democracies like Germany where lawmakers elect all the judges - presents an uphill battle to forces campaigning to unseat Park.
Since the nepotism scandal erupted in late October, Park has apologized three times but rejected the notion that it was her who committed corruption. Her only fault was dropping her guard down with longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, who used her closeness to Park to interfere in state affairs and win business favors.
Due to their contrasting attitudes, the duration of the trial could differ, some experts warn. In Roh's case, the verdict was out on the 63rd day after the impeachment bill was passed. This time, the court's deliberation could take longer. By law, the court is required to deliver a verdict within 180 days.
The Constitutional Court announced on December 20 that it would hold its first official preliminary for President Park's impeachment on December 22, during which the legal representatives of Parliament and Park will face off for the first time.
The Court will also decide whether to accept the President's objection to the requests by the independent counsel and the prosecution on files related to the Choi scandal. Park had claimed that it is illegal to ask for files related to an ongoing investigation.