Park Breaks Sulk to Deny Everything

  • By Jung Nok-yong

    January 02, 2017 10:41

    Embattled President Park Geun-hye abruptly came out of weeks of seclusion on Sunday to deny all the allegations in a massive corruption scandal and claim she was set up.

    The hastily called press conference at 1 p.m. was Park's first public appearance since her presidential powers were suspended under the National Assembly's impeachment bill on Dec. 9, and the first time since the notoriously incommunicative president came to power that she has faced the press at Cheong Wa Dae.

    Cameras and recording devices were banned, but Park appeared eerily calm as she answered questions from reporters for about 40 minutes and denied every allegation of extortion, abuse of power and neglect of duty.

    Park denied that she played a key role in pressuring Samsung and other big corporations to fork over large sums of money to two dodgy nonprofit foundations controlled by her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil. Park denied that the transaction in Samsung's case was essentially a bribe for permitting a merger of two Samsung subsidiaries to smooth the way for Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong to take the helm without a massive tax bill.

    "Samsung's merger was, at the time, an issue of public interest. Citizens closely watched the situation at the thought that if (the merger plan) fell apart due to an attack from a hedge fund, it could be a big national economic loss," Park claimed.

    "Whatever decision (the government made), it was in the best interest of the country. But in the process, I never ordered anyone to give help here and there."

    Park insisted that she is the victim of a malicious campaign to blacken her name and added, "I did not have an iota of thinking to help anyone and the thought never crossed my mind."

    She also denied pressuring Hyundai to give a supply contract to a small company run by a friend of Choi's, claiming she only later heard about the firm from media reports. This is a change of tack from an earlier defense of the affair by her lawyers that Park "wanted to help a small business."

    President Park Geun-hye talks to reporters at Cheong Wa Dae on Sunday. /Yonhap

    Park also insisted that she carried out her official duties in the notorious "missing seven hours," when she was nowhere to be found during the 2014 ferry disaster as rescue efforts went badly awry and over 300 passengers and crew died.

    Rumors have persisted that she was refusing to come out of her bedroom because she had just had one of the cosmetic procedures to which she was addicted, or because she had been put under with a knockout sleeping drug. "How can that be possible?" Park said. "I went back in my memory and can recall only people visiting me to touch up my hair and to bring me medicine for my throat."

    Asked by journalists why she was at her residence and not in her office on the fateful day, Park said, "If I have no special itinerary, I tend to my duties at my residence. I had no prior engagements that morning."

    The president complained that she was "frustrated by all of the distorted facts, incorrect news reports and lies" being told about her. "First it was reported that I was having an affair with someone, and then I was engaged in an exorcism ritual. Then it was about me undergoing cosmetic surgery. It was utterly, utterly senseless," she said.

    Asked why it took her so long to appear at an emergency meeting on the day of the disaster, Park said, "I can't move about freely since it takes time for security personnel to make preparations."

    The ferry sank in the morning, but Park did not show up until 5:15 p.m. She also claimed that "some other matters" prevented her from leaving immediately but did not elaborate.

    Park also denied that she was entirely at Choi's beck and call. "Choi is a decades-long acquaintance. It's just impossible that a mere acquaintance could manage all affairs. There are duties and judgments that the president is obliged to make. How can they make the (accusations) that an acquaintance did everything?" Instead, she insisted that that she ran the country based on her own "philosophy and conviction."

    She also denied charges that she was an accomplice to Choi's extortion racket. Asked about allegations that she let Choi meddle in top personnel appointments, Park said, "Anyone can make recommendations. But I never gave favors to anyone."

    Her former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, an ancient retainer to the Park family, told a National Assembly hearing last month that he pointed out certain flaws in candidates for government posts Park had recommended, but his warnings were not heeded.

    Several other witnesses have told prosecutors that they were told to appoint an individual for government office without proper vetting -- a problem that repeatedly landed Park in hot water long before the scandal broke. Former presidential secretary Jeong Ho-seong also told lawmakers that Choi had to have a look at which officials were being appointed for which positions.

    Lawmakers pointed out that Choi was more than a mere "acquaintance," since she effectively ran two nonprofit foundations under the aegis of Chong Wa Dae that were staffed with her drinking buddies and had huge budgets, and was also allowed to revise presidential speeches.

    Park also denied allegations that officials prepared a blacklist of over 9,000 prominent cultural figures who were seen as "hostile" to the government, saying she had no knowledge of the matter.

    Asked about revelations that she was addicted to placenta injections, a quack rejuvenation treatment that was in vogue at the time, Park said, "It is embarrassing to reveal each and every medication or pill I take. I've never inflicted any damage to the country with that."

    She added, "Such injections can be received in order to relieve fatigue. How can a patient know what the doctor prescribes?"

    Park said she is willing to be questioned by the independent counsel who is investigating the massive influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving her and Choi. She said she "cannot even smile" as people "who tried to help" her are being subjected to hardship.

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