January 17, 2017 11:10
President Park Geun-hye's longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil finally took the stand in President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial on Monday but denied any wrongdoing.
In a typically volatile and obstructive performance, Choi answered "I don't know" to most questions, except now and then to bristle at her questioners and entangle herself in contradictions.
Choi said "I don't know" more than 130 times at the witness stand, "No" more than 50 times and "I don't remember" in excess of 30 times. When she did answer at greater length, it was mostly to deny allegations that she meddled in government business for personal gain.
"I never took any money through the Mir and K-Sports foundations," she said, referring to two dodgy non-profits she set up under the aegis of Cheong Wa Dae and staffed with her drinking buddies. "Tell me how I was involved in what project, specifically, that benefited me. I never did what I'm accused of, nor did the president."
The country's top conglomerates gave billions to the two foundations after their owners met privately with Park, although they sailed under a rather nebulous banner promoting sport and pop culture.
Choi accused prosecutors of using "coercive" methods to question her and insisted she never received "a penny" in benefits.
Samsung separately gave her billions that were later spent on a purebred horse for her daughter and properties in Germany, but Choi denied this as well. "Do you really think it is even possible that a top business like Samsung would spend that much money on only one person?" she said.
"It is because of groundless suspicions raised by media reports that my daughter was scarred and ended up in such a state," Choi wailed. Her daughter Chung Yoo-ra was arrested in Denmark earlier this month on charges of money laundering, bribery, and illegal admission to Ewha Womans University.
Regarding allegations made by her former associate and gigolo Koh Young-tae that Choi dressed the president from her clothing boutique in Seoul's affluent Gangnam district, she only claimed that Koh, who designed the knockoff handbags and trouser suits Park wore on official functions, "threatened" her and made false statements about her.
But Choi insisted that she was paid by Cheong Wa Dae for the outfits. The confused responses seem designed to avoid charges of bribery that could arise if she supplied the drab outfits for free.
◆ Official Meddling
Choi also denied meddling in government business despite evidence that she was urgently consulted on the appointment of top officials and agendas of Cabinet meetings.
"The president had a clear philosophy on government administration," she said, echoing language the president used in a snap meeting with reporters early this month. Fighting back tears, Choi claimed she wanted to remain a "loyal friend" to Park, but ended up drawing so much "public criticism."
When confronted with evidence of her meddling, she accused the Constitutional Court of asking "loaded questions." "I merely gave my opinions to her," Choi said.
She claimed to have no memory regarding suspicions that she revised Park's speeches and said she merely "touched up" the president's expressions.
She also denied ties to ex-presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and also denied introducing her crony Cha Eun-taek, to him. Cha, a colorful promo director, came to baffling prominence during Park's reign and was at one point entrusted with designing an official form of calisthenics that went down like a lead balloon.
Despite refusing to answer so many questions, Choi entangled herself in numerous inconsistencies.
Asked about evidence that she pushed cronies into senior positions in the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and official projects, Choi admitted sending Cheong Wa Dae resumes of certain people, but denied recommending them personally. Two people whose resumes Choi sent to Cheong Wa Dae ended up in senior positions.
Choi admitted recommending Chung Dong-choon, who owned a massage parlor she frequented, to head the K-Sports Foundation, but denied any involvement in the foundation's activities.
She accused prosecutors of using "coercive" tactics to get her to deliver testimony by playing her recordings of her phone calls with former presidential secretary Jeong Ho-seong, who eagerly smoothed her path, and Park.
"The testimony is distorted, and I can't accept recordings as evidence when I don't know exactly when they were made," she said.
Turning to the question of the notorious "missing seven hours" on April 16, 2014, when Park was nowhere to be found while the ferry Sewol sank off the southwest coast killing over 300 people, Choi said she could not remember her own whereabouts.
"I can't even remember what I did yesterday," Choi said.
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