Lawmakers Home in on Park's 'Missing Hours' During Ferry Disaster

  • By Kim Chul-joong

    December 15, 2016 11:57

    Lawmakers on Wednesday failed to lift the veil on President Park Geun-hye's notorious seven-hour absence in the midst of the worst disaster in Korea's modern history.

    A National Assembly committee probing the massive influence-peddling and corruption scandal that has engulfed Park asked witnesses where Park was when the ferry Sewol sank with hundreds of teenagers aboard in 2014.

    Suspicions range from a tryst with a lover to cosmetic surgery that kept her from the TV screens, but witnesses were only able to say that she was at her official residence during the critical hours of the ferry accident.

    Lawmakers became so engrossed in Park's whereabouts on the fateful morning of April 16, 2014 that they failed to move on to the larger question why she did not take a more active role in dealing with the accident as soon as she found out about it.

    Minjoo Party lawmaker Do Jong-whan latched on to rumors that Park was laid up after some kind of cosmetic treatment from a clinic linked to Choi Soon-sil, the president's longtime confidante who is at the center of the scandal.

    Nine out of the 13 witnesses summoned to the hearing were doctors or medical professionals, including the heads of the clinics frequented by Choi.

    Minjoo Party lawmaker Park Young-sun questions witnesses in a National Assembly hearing on Wednesday.

    Prosecutors earlier established that Park was given repeated free treatments at Cheong Wa Dae by doctors from the clinic, which she had previously frequented under an alias borrowed from a soap opera character.

    But the witnesses all denied tending to the president that day.

    Park was later to make matters worse by bringing criminal charges against a senior Japanese journalist who reported rumors that she was meeting Choi's ex-husband in a hotel that day and could not be found.

    The absence of any revealing answers Wednesday merely greased the wheels of speculation.

    One doctor told the Chosun Ilbo that Park would probably not have had treatment requiring anesthesia at Cheong Wa Dae rather than in hospital, while simple procedures like botox or filler injections last only about 10 minutes and would not have kept her out of the public eye for so long.

    Lawmakers in the ruling Saenuri Party accused the opposition of "fabricating" rumors, and opposition lawmakers urged the president finally to come clean.

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