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(2nd LD) Choi denies all wrongdoing in Park impeachment trial

All News 13:27 January 16, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES; REWRITES throughout with Choi's remarks; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil testified at the Constitutional Court on Monday that she never made personal or business gains through her ties to the president.

Choi, who was summoned to testify at the fifth hearing of Park's impeachment trial, vehemently denied any wrongdoing in her interactions with the president, calling the accusations against her "unfair." The confidante has been jailed since late last year on charges of abusing power, coercion and attempted fraud.

Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the center of a widening corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, arrives at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Jan. 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

The parliament impeached Park last month on suspicion of colluding with Choi, but the president has maintained her innocence and refused to attend her trial.

Members of a parliamentary impeachment panel grilled Choi over allegations she influenced government-sponsored culture and sports projects to benefit her daughter who is a former member of the national equestrian team.

"I have never gained any benefits or privileges. I think it is a jump of logic," Choi said defiantly. The confidante has been accused of abusing her personal ties to the president to extort money from conglomerates, influence appointments of government personnel, and secure college admission and funding for her daughter.

Choi shot back at the panel members, demanding they provide evidence of her alleged wrongdoing. She also complained of the prosecution's "coercive" investigation tactics and insisted she never received "a penny" in benefits.

At times, she raised her voice and refused to answer what she called "loaded questions."

Choi also defended the president.

On whether she made visits to the presidential office, she acknowledged making visits but claimed she did not remember how often. She said she helped Park with "personal matters" but refused to elaborate. She then admitted to receiving drafts of Park's speeches and making changes to give them more emotion.

The Constitutional Court, a special prosecutors' team and a local court have all accelerated their proceedings to draw a swift resolution to the case. Millions of people have staged candlelight vigils for the past 12 Saturdays to demand Park's resignation and punishment for others involved in the scandal.

The top court has until early June to decide whether to uphold or reject the impeachment motion.

Choi Soon-sil is seated inside the Constitutional Court in Seoul ahead of the fifth hearing of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial on Jan. 16, 2017. (Yonhap)


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