Posts Tagged ‘constitutional court’

Catalan Mayors Exercise Right to Remain Silent in Referendum Questioning

September 19, 2017

BARCELONA — The first of hundreds of Catalan mayors summoned to answer questions on why they have backed a banned Oct. 1 referendum on independence from Spain appeared before the state prosecutor on Tuesday amid cheers and chants from supporters.

The first three mayors to declare exercised their right to remain silent, the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI) said.

Years of separatist feeling in the industrial northeastern region will come to a head in less than two weeks as the fiercely pro-independence regional government calls a referendum on splitting from Spain.

Madrid has declared the referendum illegal and the Constitutional Court has suspended the vote that was approved by the regional government earlier this month.

So far, 745 of 948 municipal leaders have said they will provide venues for the referendum.

“Voting is not a crime,” said Marc Solsona, mayor of the town of Mollerussa, one of nearly 750 mayors facing charges of civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds, as he left the state prosecutor’s office in Barcelona.

“I’m just the mayor and I have to serve my people. I am committed to the people being able to vote on Oct. 1 in accordance with the law passed by the Catalan parliament and what happens to me is not important,” he said.

Solsona smiled, kissed and gripped hands with dozens of clapping supporters gathered outside the state prosecutor’s office as he entered to chants of ‘You are not alone’

“We consider ourselves privileged to have a mayor who represents the townspeople above any other interests – political or financial,” said 63-year-old pensioner Angel Tena, who had traveled to Barcelona to support the mayor.

Separately, police continued their search for ballot boxes, voting papers and campaign leaflets on Wednesday, raiding the offices of Spain’s biggest private delivery company Unipost in the Catalan city of Terrassa, Spanish media reported.

Neither the police nor the Interior Ministry could confirm the raid, but footage showed dozens of people gathered outside the company’s offices chanting ‘Out with the occupying forces,’ handing out voting papers and laying carnations on police cars.

Unipost confirmed the raid without giving further details.

Although polls show less than half of Catalonia’s 5.5 million voters want self-rule, most in the wealthy northeastern region want the chance to vote on the issue.

(Additional reporting by Sonya Dowsett and Inmaculada Sanz in Madrid; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Angus Berwick and Janet Lawrence)


South Korean president removed from office over corruption scandal

March 10, 2017

South Korean court throws president out of office, 2 dead in protest

President Park Geun-Hye leaves office in disgrace, crippled by a corruption scandal that made her South Korea’s first head of state to be removed by impeachment.  POOL/AFP/File / by Jung Ha-Won
By Joyce Lee and Cynthia Kim | SEOUL

South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a graft scandal involving the country’s conglomerates at a time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.

The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court.

Park becomes South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail.

A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.

A supporter of impeached President Park Geun-hye lies in front of a barricade of riot police during a protest after Park’s impeachment was accepted, near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2017.REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making any comment nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday.

“For now, Park is not leaving the Blue House today,” Blue House spokesman Kim Dong Jo told Reuters.

Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her but has remained in the president’s official compound.

The court’s acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the constitution and law “throughout her term”, and despite the objections of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked down on critics.

Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

The ruling to uphold parliament’s Dec. 9 vote to impeach her marks a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea’s first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose parents were assassinated.

Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.


Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will remain in that post until the election. He called on Park’s supporters and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division.

“It is time to accept, and close the conflict and confrontation we have suffered,” Hwang said in a televised speech.

A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday. Hwang, who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.

“Given Park’s spectacular demise and disarray among conservatives, the presidential contest in May is the liberals’ to lose,” said Yonsei University professor John Delury.

Relations with China and the United States could dominate the coming presidential campaign, after South Korea this month deployed the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in response to North Korea’s stepped up missile and nuclear tests.

Beijing has vigorously protested against the deployment, fearing its radar could see into its missile deployments. China has curbed travel to South Korea and targeted Korean companies operating in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.

The Seoul market’s benchmark KOSPI index .KS11 and the KRW= rose after the ruling.

The prospect of a new president in the first half of this year instead of prolonged uncertainty will buoy domestic demand as well as the markets, said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong.

“The hope is that this will allow the country to have a new leader that can address long-standing challenges such as labor market reforms and escalated geopolitical tensions,” he said.

Park was accused of colluding with her friend, Choi, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

The court said Park had “completely hidden the fact of (Choi’s) interference with state affairs”.

Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favors, including backing a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as supporting family succession and control over the country’s largest “chaebol” or conglomerate.

Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His trial began on Thursday.

He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing.


The scandal and verdict have exposed fault lines in a country long divided by Cold War politics.

While Park’s conservative supporters clashed with police outside the court, elsewhere, most people welcomed her ouster. A recent poll showed more than 70 percent supported her impeachment.

Hundreds of thousands of people have for months been gathering at peaceful rallies in Seoul every weekend to call for her to step down.

On Friday, hundreds of Park’s supporters, many of them elderly, tried to break through police barricades at the courthouse. Police said one 72-year-old man was taken to hospital with a head injury and died. The circumstances of the second death were being investigated.

Six people were injured, protest organizers said.

Police blocked the main thoroughfare running through downtown Seoul in anticipation of bigger protests.

Park will be making a tragic and untimely departure from the Blue House for the second time in her life.

In 1979, having served as acting first lady after her mother was killed by a bullet meant for her father, she and her two siblings left the presidential compound after their father was killed.

This time, she could end up in jail.

Prosecutors have named Park as an accomplice in two court cases linked to the scandal, suggesting she is likely to be investigated.

North Korean state media wasted little time labeling Park a criminal.

“She had one more year left as ‘president’ but, now she’s been ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal,” the North’s state KCNA news agency said shortly after the court decision.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, James Pearson, Heekyong Yang and Dahee Kim in SEOUL, Yeganeh Torbati in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

The Washington post
March 10 at 3:42 AM
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been removed from office, with the Constitutional Court unanimously upholding a parliamentary vote to impeach her for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.Elections for a new president must now be held within 60 days, and polls suggest there will be a change in political direction for South Korea, with the progressive candidate Moon Jae-in holding a strong lead over the conservatives who were once loyal to Park.“The court dismisses President Park Geun-hye from her position,” said Lee Jung-mi, the acting chief justice, delivering the highly anticipated verdict Friday. “There is no other choice but to decide this verdict.”Park did not make any comment on the decision and remained in the presidential Blue House Friday afternoon.  Hwang Kyo-ahn, the caretaker prime minister who is now acting president, declared South Korea to be in an “emergency” situation, saying he would try to ensure stability and assuage international concerns.

The impeachment marks a historic moment in a country that adopted democracy only 30 years ago, with peaceful protest leading to the removal of an elected leader. But supporters of Park wasted no time in venting their anger Friday morning, clashing with riot police and breaching cordons around the court. Two people were reported to have died during the protests.

Supporters of South Korean President Park Geun-hye gather before the Constitutional Court ruling on Park’s impeachment near the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Mar. 10. The court unanimously upheld a parliamentary vote to eject her from office short thereafter. (Reuters)

The case has rocked South Korean society because of the sheer extent of the alleged corruption: Not only is the presidential Blue House implicated but also the chiefs of leading companies such as Samsung, a high-profile prosecutor and the head of the national pension fund, the world’s third-largest.

The case comes at a time of high tensions in the region, with North Korea firing missiles and threats and an angry China retaliating against South Korea for hosting an American anti­missile battery, which Beijing views as an effort to curtail China.

All eight judges on the Constitutional Court voted to uphold the impeachment motion against Park, passed by an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly in December, saying the president had “continuously” violated the law and Constitution.

The court concluded that the president had helped her friend Choi Soon-sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates and had personally asked big business for donations. She had leaked confidential documents to Choi, tried to cover up her wrongdoing, then lied about it. The judges also chastised Park for refusing to answer questions about the case.

“The negative impact of the president’s legal violations is serious, and the benefits to defending the constitution by dismissing her from office are overwhelmingly large,” the acting chief justice said when reading out the court’s ruling.

Analysts had expected the impeachment decision.

Read the rest:

South Korea court to rule on President Park impeachment Friday

March 8, 2017


© AFP/File | South Korea President Park Geun-Hye was impeached by parliament in December over a major corruption and influence-peddling scandal
SEOUL (AFP) – The political fate of South Korea’s scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye will be decided by the country’s highest court Friday, a spokesman said, when it will rule on whether to confirm her impeachment.

Park was impeached by parliament in December over a major corruption and influence-peddling scandal that rocked the nation and prompted millions to take to the street to demand her ouster.

Eight judges at the Constitutional Court have been reviewing the validity of the motion.

“It has been decided that the ruling on the impeachment of the president will be announced at 11am on March 10,” a court spokesman said Wednesday, adding the decision would be televised live.

If her removal is upheld, Park would become the first-ever South Korean president to be sacked by impeachment, and an election to choose her successor would be held within 60 days.

If it is rejected, Park, who has been holed up in the presidential palace with her power suspended, would immediately return to office and stay until the end of her term in February 2018.

The 65-year-old conservative president was elected in 2012 partly thanks to the popularity of her father and late army dictator, Park Chung-Hee.

But the scandal involving her secret confidante Choi Soon-Sil has triggered a dramatic downfall of the leader who once was dubbed the “queen of elections” due to staunch support from conservative voters.

Choi is accused of using her presidential ties to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations she then allegedly used for personal gain. She is currently on trial for abuse of power, coercion and fraud.

Park is accused of colluding with Choi to extract money from the firms and letting the friend handle a wide range of state affairs, including the nomination of cabinet members.

A number of former presidential aides and cabinet members have been arrested and charged with abuse of power or leaking secret state documents to Choi at Park’s order.

Park has denied all wrongdoing. If she is forced out, she would lose the executive privilege that protects her from criminal indictment.

Thousands of her supporters have protested in Seoul and in front of the Constitutional Court in recent weeks, hurling personal threat against judges and vowing a “civil war” if she is sacked.

Poland Says Rule of Law Dispute With EU Is Over

February 21, 2017

Poland considers its dispute with the European Commission about the country’s rule of law closed, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said on Tuesday, a day after Warsaw sent a letter to Brussels defending judicial reforms.

Responding to a Commission deadline to implement measures it deemed essential after a series of appointments and reforms appeared to weaken the independence of the country’s judiciary, Poland said all has been done according to European standards.

“I expect that the matter will be closed,” Waszczykowski told the state-run radio Trojka.

The Commission said it had received the Polish response and would study it.

The monitoring procedure the Commission launched more than a year ago could end in Warsaw losing its voting rights in the 28-nation European Union if all other leaders in the bloc agree to that.

“We explained comprehensively what happened in Poland, how the reforms relating to the Constitutional Court have been implemented,” Waszczykowski said, a few days after a heated public spat with the Commission’s number two official over the case.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; editing by John Stonestreet)


Poland in Response to EU: Rule of Law Not Under Threat

February 20, 2017

WARSAW — Poland appeared to dismiss on Monday demands that it implement judiciary reforms deemed essential by the European Commission to uphold the rule of law, raising the danger Warsaw could be stripped of its voting right in the 28-member bloc.

The Commission had given Warsaw two months from December to implement measures to protect the powers of the Constitutional Court, after a series of new appointments and reforms appeared to weaken its independence.

The unprecedented monitoring procedure that the Commission launched against Poland more than a year ago could end in Warsaw losing its voting right in the 28-nation European Union if all other EU leaders agree to that.

Tensions between Warsaw and Brussels have grown steadily since the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party swept to power in late 2015 and moved to change the way rulings are made at the top court and to exert more control over state prosecutors.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had submitted a response to the Commission’s concerns. In a statement on its website, however, it said the changes Poland had implemented had been in line with European standards and had created “the right conditions for a normal functioning” of the Constitutional Court.

“Once again, Poland stressed that the existing political dispute around the principles of functioning of the Constitutional Court cannot be the basis for formulating the claim that there is a systemic threat to the rule of law,” the ministry said in its statement.

It also accused Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans of “stigmatizing” Warsaw. Timmermans had urged other EU members to support Brussels in its dispute with Poland.

“It is clear that the Commission cannot do it alone,” Timmermans told Reuters in an interview on Saturday. “The member states and the Commission have to stick together. Everybody has to take their responsibility.”

“(Timmermans’s call) on other member states to create a common front with the European Commission against Poland are a glaring example of violation of these rules,” the ministry said.

Warsaw said that a dialogue between the Commission and a member country should be based on rules of respect for sovereignty, objectivity and national identity.

“We urge the Vice-President of the European Commission to stop such actions,” the ministry said.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Writing by Lidia Kelly; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Poland Dismisses EU Concerns in Response to Rule-of-Law Probe

February 20, 2017, 12:20 PM EST
  • Rules provide stable basis for court to function, cabinet says
  • Government criticises EU Vice President Timmermans’ comments

Poland dismissed concerns from the European Union that it’s backsliding on democracy and the rule of law with an overhaul of its constitutional court, setting itself on a collision course with allies who are trying to hold back the populist tide threatening the bloc.

In an official response to recommendations made on Dec. 21 by the commission to restore checks and balances in Poland, the government said disputed changes it has made to the Constitutional Tribunal had strengthened rule of law. It rejected comments by a top EU official as “aimed at stigmatizing an EU member state.” If the commission deems Poland’s answers as unsatisfactory, it has the right to resort to Article 7 of the bloc’s treaty, which allows it to seek sanctions including the suspension of voting rights in the European Council.

“The current political argument around the Constitutional Tribunal can’t be the basis to claim that the rule of law is threatened in Poland,” the government said in the response Monday. Strengthening the democratic rule of law, including building “a stable basis for the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, is the government’s most important goal,” it said.

Joining the global backlash of political actors seeking to overturn a world order decades in the making, Poland’s ruling Law & Justice has spurned the liberal, multicultural values that uphold the EU in a push to return the country of 38 million to its traditional roots. Since winning a 2015 election, it has overhauled the constitutional court in moves that the tribunal has ruled illegal. It has also fired journalists from state-run news outlets and pushed public media to support its policies. Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said last year he was ready to fight EU and NATO partners “to make Poland a truly sovereign nation.”

The cabinet has also threatened to punish opposition lawmakers, who enjoy immunity, if it deems they broke laws in protests earlier this year. The last time the EU gave Poland several months to respond to its guidance on how to restore the constitutional court’s authority or face losing its voting rights, Warsaw replied at the last minute by accusing bureaucrats in Brussels of being stupid. It’s the first ever probe into rule of law in an EU member state.

Read More About Poland’s Clash With the EU

“It is time for the European Commission to acknowledge that the dialogue with Poland has failed and move on to the next steps and recommend resorting to Article 7,” Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society European Policy Institute, and Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to the Commission Feb. 16.

The dispute has weighed on Polish assets. While the zloty is outperforming its regional peers the koruna and forint this year with a 1.8 percent gain against the euro, it’s 0.6 percent weaker since the Council of Europe condemned the government for endangering democracy last March. S&P Global Ratings also downgraded the EU’s largest eastern economy more than a year ago after the first changes to the Constitutional Court.Still, any move to strip Poland of its voting rights on the EU stage is unlikely to succeed because it would require unanimity among the bloc’s 28 countries. Law & Justice’s biggest ally in the EU, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has signaled he won’t support such a measure.

That has not weakened the commission’s resolve, and Vice President Frans Timmermans repeated last week that the EU “will not drop this issue.”

In the statement Monday, Poland’s government criticized Timmermans’ comments as “politically motivated” and a “blatant example of violation” of the “objectivity and mutual respect for sovereignty and national identity” that it expects in its dialog with the EU.

Daughter of South Korean Leader’s Friend Arrested in Denmark Amid Graft Probe

January 2, 2017


January 2, 2017

SEOUL — Danish police have arrested the equestrian competitor daughter of a woman at the center of a South Korean influence-peddling scandal that has engulfed President Park Geun-hye, police and prosecutors said on Monday.

The scandal led to Park’s impeachment by parliament on Dec. 9 and has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of the capital, Seoul, for weekly demonstrations.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with reporters at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Presidential Blue House and released by Yonhap on January 1, 2017. Blue House/Yonhap via REUTERS

South Korean authorities had been seeking the arrest of Chung Yoo-ra, 20, for her ties to the scandal in which her mother, Choi Soon-sil, is a central figure. Chung had been sought for alleged criminal interference related to her academic record, and other unspecified charges.

FILE PHOTO: South Korea’s Chung Yoo-ra, then known as Chung Yoo-yeon, bites her gold medal as she poses after winning the equestrian Dressage Team competition at the Dream Park Equestrian Venue during the 17th Asian Games in Incheon September 20, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

Park, 64, could become South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced to leave office early. The parliamentary impeachment must be confirmed or overturned by the Constitutional Court, which has months to rule.

“We will request an emergency extradition of Chung, working with the special prosecutor’s office,” Lee Chul-sung, commissioner general of the Korea National Police Agency, told a media briefing in Seoul.

The two countries have an extradition treaty.

Choi Soon-sil, a long-time friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye who is at the center of the South Korean political scandal involving Park, arrives for her first court hearing in Seoul, South Korea, December 19, 2016. Korea Pool/via REUTERS

Chung, who did equestrian training in Germany, was arrested in the northern Danish city of Aalborg for staying illegally, at around 4 a.m. Seoul time (1900 GMT) on Monday, Lee said.

South Korea’s foreign ministry has been working to invalidate Chung’s passport and authorities have asked German prosecutors for information about her whereabouts and assets.

The influence-peddling scandal centers on accusations the president colluded with her friend Choi to pressure big businesses to make contributions to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives.

Park, whose father ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a 1961 coup, has denied wrongdoing but apologized for carelessness in her ties with Choi, who is facing her own trial. Choi also denies wrongdoing.

As part of their investigation, prosecutors are trying to ascertain whether Samsung Electronics sought favors from Choi and Park in return for funding some of their initiatives.

In particular, they are looking at whether favors Samsung sought included the National Pension Service’s support for Samsung’s founding family in a shareholder vote last year.

An element of the investigation has been Samsung’s sponsorship of Chung’s riding career.

The special prosecutor’s office has asked Interpol to place Chung on its red notice list, but Interpol had yet to make a decision on the request, Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the special prosecutor said.


Chung told Danish police she was staying in Denmark for equestrian-related work, according to South Korea’s JTBC TV channel. A Volkswagen vehicle and horse-riding equipment were found at the house where Chung and her party were arrested, JTBC said.

Lee Kyung-jae, a lawyer representing both Choi and Chung, said the daughter would cooperate.

“When Chung Yoo-ra returns I will ensure that she fully cooperates with the special prosecution’s investigation,” the lawyer told the Yonhap News Agency.

Danish officials had five people in custody, including Chung and a child born in 2015, a police official said, declining to be identified, not four as police said earlier on Monday. Chung is known to have a young son.

The others in custody are two men who appear to be Koreans in their late twenties or early thirties and a woman in her sixties.

Lee, the police official, said Danish police had 24 hours to secure evidence that Chung was staying illegally in Denmark.

Park’s arrest was first reported by the JTBC channel, which said on its website that its journalists had alerted Danish police to Chung’s presence there.

A video on JTBC’s website showed a person identified as Chung in a heavy hooded parka being led to a police car. The person’s face could not be seen.

Chung became a figure of public ire in South Korea last year after it emerged that she had received special treatment from the prestigious Ewha Womans University, where her admission was subsequently canceled.

News of Chung’s arrest came a day after Park broke a month-long silence over her alleged role in the corruption scandal, publicly denying charges of wrongdoing and describing the accusations against her as fabricated and false.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

South Korea’s impeached President Park Geun-hye says she was not part of curruption

January 1, 2017

SEOUL — South Korea’s impeached President Park Geun-hye on Sunday broke a month-long silence over her alleged role in a corruption scandal, publicly denying charges of wrongdoing and saying that the accusations against her were “fabrication and falsehood.”

Park also said that she was set up over allegations that she ordered the government to support a 2015 merger of two affiliates of South Korean conglomerate Samsung, a deal which has become central to the investigation.

“It’s completely framed,” she was quoted by local media as saying, without elaborating.

Park is being investigated over accusations that she gave favors to big businesses in return for financial contributions to entities controlled by her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

On Sunday, Park denied Choi was allowed to wield undue and wide-reaching influence over state affairs.

In a hastily arranged briefing over tea, the leader met reporters from domestic media in her first event since being impeached by parliament on Dec. 9.

Park’s fate is in the hands of Constitutional Court judges who have up to 180 days to uphold the impeachment or reinstate her.

She last appeared in public on Nov. 29, offering to step down if parliament could agree on a way for her to leave office.

Opposition parties rejected that offer and led a motion to impeach Park by a wide margin, joined by some members of her own Saenuri Party. The Constitutional Court is set to begin hearing arguments from both sides.

Park has denied wrongdoing previously but apologized for carelessness in her ties with Choi, a friend for four decades, who has also denied wrongdoing. Choi is in detention while on trial.


Park said on Sunday that the decision by the country’s national pension fund to back a merger between two Samsung Group affiliates was “a just policy decision” made for national interest, and that the deal was supported by many brokerage firms at the time.

“I did not have an iota of thinking to help anyone and the thought never crossed my mind,” Park said.

“This is not the place to tell you all the details, but what I can clearly say now is that I did nothing whatsoever to favor anyone or collude with anyone to do that.”

The merger in 2015 of Samsung Group affiliates Cheil Industries Inc and Samsung C&T Corp has become a key part of the probe into influence peddling at the pinnacle of South Korean politics.

The deal has been criticized by some investors for strengthening the founding family’s control of Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest “chaebol”, or conglomerate, at the expense of other shareholders.

The National Pension Service, which had 545 trillion won ($451.78 billion) under management at the end of September and was a major shareholder in the two Samsung affiliates, voted in favor of the merger without calling in an external committee that sometimes advises it on difficult votes.

Park, 64, is accused of colluding with Choi to pressure big businesses including Samsung to make contributions to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives.

Hundreds of thousands of people have turned out in central Seoul for ten straight weekends to demand Park’s immediate ouster, but she has defied the call and indicated through her lawyers that she will fight impeachment in court.

Park’s comments on Sunday were more detailed than previous ones, and also touched on allegations of negligence over the handling of the Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014 that killed more than 300 passengers, mostly school children.

Park was criticized for mishandling the rescue efforts and questions have persisted about her whereabouts during the seven hours between the first report of the accident and her appearance in the government’s emergency room.

Park said she had remained in the residential quarters of the official Blue House residence on April 16 because no official event had been scheduled, but received reports about rescue operations before moving to the nearby situation room when the magnitude of the disaster became evident.

She denied allegations that she failed to pay closer attention to the rescue because she was receiving a cosmetic procedure at the time.

“That is not possible even by common sense.”

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)


South Korea’s Park denies involvement in corruption scandal

January 1, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File | South Korea’s Parliament voted on December 9, 2016 to impeach President Park Geun-Hye over a corruption scandal

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s impeached President Park Geun-Hye on Sunday repeated denials of involvement in a snowballing corruption scandal and said rumours have been “getting out of hand”, Yonhap news agency reported.

“Rumours, stories and broadcasts have been distorted and false information has been getting out of hand,” she was quoted as telling reporters at the presidential Blue House.

Parliament voted on December 9 to impeach Park over the scandal. She is accused of colluding with close friend Choi Soon-Sil to strong-arm big companies into handing over tens of millions of dollars to dubious foundations which Choi controlled.

Choi is now on trial for coercion and abuse of power, largely related to the corporate funding of the two foundations which she allegedly plundered.

The impeachment case is being considered by the Constitutional Court — which has up to six months to reach a ruling — but hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have joined weekly protests calling for Park’s immediate departure from office.

If the impeachment is confirmed, a presidential election will have to be held within 60 days.

Park also allegedly ordered aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowed her to meddle in state affairs including the appointment of top officials.

Since the scandal came to light, Park had apologised several times for her conduct in tearful televised addresses. She admitted seeking advice from Choi on some presidential speeches and PR material at the beginning of her term in 2013.

Media reports have depicted Choi as having a “Rasputin-like” influence over Park, saying she controlled everything from the president’s wardrobe to crucial decisions on state affairs — allegations denied by Park.

“I have known Choi for decades. But that doesn’t mean that she has access to everything,” Yonhap quoted Park as saying, citing her “duties as president.”

Park’s rare meeting with reporters was her first public appearance since she was suspended from executive duties. The country has a temporary leader, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn.

The constitutional court’s first hearing on the impeachment is scheduled for Tuesday.

South Korea: President Park Geun-hye Scandal Probe Widens to Include Samsung — National Pension Service fund chief “under emercency arrest” by special prosecutor

December 28, 2016


By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

South Korean prosecutors put the chairman of the world’s third-largest pension fund under emergency arrest on Wednesday in a widening influence-peddling scandal that has led to parliament voting to impeach President Park Geun-hye.

The special prosecutor’s office did not provide further details on the arrest of National Pension Service (NPS) Chairman Moon Hyung-pyo. Officers on Monday raided his home on suspicion of abuse of power.

The special prosecutor has been looking into whether Moon pressured the pension fund to support the $8 billion merger last year of two Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] affiliates while he was head of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which runs the NPS.

Investigators are also examining whether Samsung’s support for a business and foundations backed by the president’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, who is at the center of the influence-peddling scandal, may have been connected to NPS support for the merger, a prosecution official told Reuters last week.

Moon said on Tuesday, as he arrived at the prosecutor’s office, he would cooperate and did not comment when asked if he pressured the NPS to vote for the merger.

On Dec. 9, the NPS dismissed as “groundless” a media report that Moon had coerced the NPS to support the merger.

The NPS had 545 trillion won ($451.35 billion) under management at the end of September and was a major shareholder in Samsung Group affiliates Cheil Industries Inc and Samsung C&T Corp when they merged last year.

Some investors criticized the tie-up for strengthening the founding family’s control of Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest “chaebol”, or conglomerate, at the expense of other shareholders.

The NPS voted in favor of the merger without calling in an external committee that sometimes advises it on difficult votes.

A spokeswoman for the NPS said on Wednesday it was “watching the situation” and declined to comment further.

TV footage showed Moon arriving in a detention center van at the office of the special prosecutor, escorted by guards and wearing a prison uniform. He declined to answer reporters’ questions.


Park, 64, whose father ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a 1961 coup, is accused of colluding with her long-time friend, Choi, who has been indicted and is in custody, to pressure big businesses to make contributions to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives.

Park has denied wrongdoing but apologized for carelessness in her ties with Choi, a friend for four decades, who has also denied wrongdoing. Choi is in detention pending trial.

Parliament voted to impeach Park over the scandal on Dec. 9, a decision that must be upheld or overturned by the Constitutional Court within 180 days.

In the meantime, she has been stripped of her powers, which have been assumed by the prime minister, although she remains in the presidential Blue House.

Big street protests have been held every Saturday for the last nine weeks to demand that she step down immediately. Another rally is expected this weekend.

At a parliamentary hearing this month, Samsung Group scion Jay Y. Lee denied allegations from lawmakers that Samsung lobbied to get the NPS to vote in favor of the merger, or that it made contributions seeking something in return.

A Samsung Group spokeswoman declined further comment on Wednesday.

Investigators raided NPS offices last week and in November.

Under South Korean law, a suspect can be held under emergency arrest without a warrant for up to 48 hours.

If the Constitutional Court affirms Park’s impeachment, she would be the country’s first democratically elected leader to be ousted from office, and would lose immunity from prosecution.

Her early departure from office would trigger a presidential election, to be held in 60 days.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin, Yun Hwan Chae and Christine Kim; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel)


South Korean president’s friend at heart of scandal summoned for questioning

December 24, 2016


A South Korean special prosecutor probing a corruption scandal engulfing impeached President Park Geun-hye summoned a friend of hers at the center of the crisis for questioning on Saturday on charges including bribery and embezzlement, an official said.

The questioning of Choi Soon-sil, whom Park has described as a life-long friend, came ahead of a ninth straight weekend rally in central Seoul demanding the immediate ouster of Park.

Choi and other former presidential aides were charged in November with abuse of power and fraud, but Park has immunity from prosecution as long as she is in office even though her powers are suspended.

“The charges in the indictment are but a very small part of the 14 points under investigation by the special prosecutor,” said Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the team of investigators probing the scandal.

Choi will be questioned on charges of bribery and transferring embezzled assets abroad, Lee told a briefing.

Choi, wearing a grey prison uniform and a surgical mask, was taken to the special prosecutor’s office from detention, pushed by a throng of correctional officers through a media scrum.

She did not answer journalists’ questions about the charges.

The special prosecutor has up to 100 days to investigate allegations that Park colluded with Choi and her aides to pressure big conglomerates to contribute 77 billion won ($64 million) to foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

Park has denied wrongdoing but apologized for carelessness in her ties with Choi.

The friendship dates back to the 1970s when Park served as acting first lady after her mother was killed by an assassin’s bullet intended for her father, then-president Park Chung-hee.

Five years later, in 1979, Park’s father was murdered by his disgruntled spy chief.

Park’s impeachment is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court which has up to 180 days from the day of the Dec. 9 impeachment to decide whether to uphold it or reinstate Park.

Another large crowd is expected in central Seoul later in the day calling on Park to step down. A group of 1,000 young people are scheduled to dress up as Santa Claus and march to the presidential Blue House to deliver handcuffs.

($1 = 1,200)

(Reporting by Jack Kim, Ju-min Park and Yun Hwan Chae; Editing by Nick Macfie)