November 16, 2016 12:36
Prosecutors have discovered text messages on the mobile phone of a former presidential secretary showing the bizarre extent to which President Park Geun-hye relied on her longtime friend Choi-soon-sil's opinion in running the country.
According to prosecutors, Park repeatedly sent text messages to Jeong Ho-seong asking, "Did Mrs. Choi confirm this?" Other text messages allegedly sent by Park show the president prodding Jeong to obtain Choi's feedback more quickly.
Evidence suggests that Choi, a woman with no official post or obvious qualifications other than influence peddling, was regularly sent classified Cheong Wa Dae documents, from presidential speeches to documents relating to secret military discussions about North Korea.
Park aides' mobile phones have proved a mine of information showing just how far Choi's influence went, from appointing cronies to high office to meddling in government schedules.
Prosecutors have discovered audio recordings of Choi urging Jeong to set up a Cabinet meeting schedule. The recording was made ahead of Park's trip abroad and strongly suggest that it was Choi who ran the president's diary, including whether a Cabinet meeting should take place before or after a trip.
In a partial apology on Oct. 25, Park claimed only to have asked Choi for some input into "some materials" in the earliest stages of her presidency, but mounting evidence suggests that critics who have portrayed Park as dependent on Choi for every aspect of her job are not far off.
Prosecutors now believe they have enough evidence to charge Park with abuse of power and divulging classified documents. The charges focus on evidence that Park personally leaned on big businesses to donate W77.4 billion to Choi's dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations, which were barely disguised vehicles for Choi to enrich herself and hustle jobs for drinking buddies (US$1=W1,167).
Prosecution sources say the transfer of 2.8 million euros to Widec, a paper company set up in Germany by Choi and her daughter Chung Yoo-ra last year could emerge as a key piece of evidence as the investigation nears completion.
Before the money was wired to Widec, Samsung was faced with some sticky legal issues ahead of the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries that paved the way for heir Lee Jae-yong's tax-free rise to control of the conglomerate.
Prosecutors believe Samsung paid Choi the money so she would ensure the smooth transfer of control from father to son. The merger went ahead, and if Samsung received help after sending the money to Choi, Park too could face charges of taking bribes.
"We need to investigate the president first," said one prosecution source.
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