February 16, 2017 12:31
President Park Geun-hye talked to her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil on the phone twice every day even after Choi went on the lam as the corruption scandal engulfed them both.
In a discovery that could fatally undermine Park's defense that she was an innocent dupe of Choi's shenanigans, investigators on Wednesday said the two exchanged no fewer than 573 calls between April and October last year as the media still largely glossed over the first stirrings of the scandal, and another 127 times once Choi hotfooted it to Germany.
That boils down to an average of three calls a day before and two a day after Choi fled.
The independent counsel investigating the scandal revealed the phone records Wednesday to stress the need to raid Cheong Wa Dae and salvage whatever evidence has escaped the shredder.
Investigators obtained a search warrant from the Seoul Central District Court earlier this month but were physically pushed back at the doors by Cheong Wa Dae staff who cited "security concerns."
Investigators said the calls were made using a phone in another person's name and procured by Cheong Wa Dae administrative staffer Yoon Jeon-choo. Yoon used to be a fitness trainer to the stars before she landed the job at Choi's recommendation. One Cheong Wad Dae flunkey last month testified that the entire presidential office had phones in false names, like a ring of ticket touts.
The last calls came on Oct. 26, a day after the president made a half-hearted public apology in which she claimed she only let Choi look at "some materials" years ago but stopped consulting her once her secretariat was in place. They spoke 10 times over the course of those two days until the early hours of the morning.
The independent counsel suspects that the president tried to discuss strategy with Choi and look for ways to get rid of evidence. Park then stopped taking Choi's calls. Instead, Choi told her niece Jang Si-ho to tell Choi's sister Soon-deuk to call the president from Yoon's phone. According to Jang, Park then told Choi Soon-deuk to tell Soon-sil to come back to Korea, which she duly did for days later.
Kim Dae-hyun, an attorney on the independent counsel's team, said, "We're confident that there is evidence inside Cheong Wa Dae that can prove this."
At a hearing in the Seoul Administrative Court on Wednesday, the independent counsel's team engaged in heated debate with Park's lawyers about the legality of forcing a search. Park's lawyers argued that by law the only parties that can sue Cheong Wa Dae are people who have suffered injustice from the state.
The court is expected to reach a decision on Thursday.
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