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(LEAD) Assembly panel on Park scandal holds final hearing, seeks to extend mandate

All News 11:38 January 09, 2017

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; ADDS details throughout)
By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's parliamentary committee on the influence-peddling scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidante held its last hearing Monday, with only two of the 20 summoned witnesses having actually appeared before the National Assembly.

The ad hoc panel also approved a motion to extend its mandate by one month, as its authority expires this Sunday.

The committee, which kicked off Nov. 17, has been holding a series of sessions to find out the details behind the allegation that Park's friend Choi Soon-sil exerted influence on state affairs for personal gain.

If the motion is approved at a plenary session of the National Assembly, its activity can be extended by up to 30 days.

The panel summoned 20 figures to Monday's hearing, but most key witnesses -- including Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun, former Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Woo Byung-woo, and former Ewha Womans University President Choi Kyung-hee -- said they wouldn't participate.

Only a professor from Ehwa Womans University and a former head of the K-Sports Foundation, appeared at the hearing.

A high-ranking executive from Samsung Electronics Co., who was earlier expected to appear, was absent, citing health conditions.

The university faces allegations that it gave admissions and academic favors to Choi's daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

The K-Sports Foundation and Mir were virtually controlled by Choi and collected large-sum donations from local conglomerates under the name of public projects. Investigators suspect Choi attempted to take control of the foundations' assets.

South Korea's top conglomerate Samsung Group allegedly signed a 22 billion won (US$18.3 million) contract with a Germany-based company owned by Choi and financially supported her daughter Chung's purchase of horses, equestrian training and other costs.

Previous hearings questioned business tycoons, presidential staffers and other figures linked to the scandal but mostly ended fruitlessly amid the absence of key figures and witnesses' reluctance to deliver critical testimonies.


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