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(LEAD) Former Park aide denies charges in first trial

All News 18:13 June 16, 2017

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; REWRITES throughout with updates on Woo's trial)

SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- A former presidential aide embroiled in an influence-peddling scandal that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye denied all charges during his first court hearing Friday.

Woo Byung-woo, former presidential secretary for civil affairs, defended himself as a public servant who has never sought personal gain and criticized the prosecution for what he called an unfair investigation.

Woo was indicted in April on charges including abuse of power and dereliction of duty. He is accused of aiding and abetting Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil in meddling in state affairs and coercing conglomerates into making large-sum "donations" to two foundations she allegedly controlled.

The former prosecutor strongly refuted the indictment, claiming that he became "a target" for a politically motivated investigation.

"I have abided by the principle that I do my job without any personal greed... but everything changed after a false media report," Woo told the court, referring to a revelation by daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo on a suspected unfair real estate deal with a major game developer.

Prosecutors suspect Woo tried to stop a special presidential inspector's investigation into the scandal and interfered in appointments of government officials.

But he strongly rejected the accusation and stressed that he carried out his duties as instructed by the president, not at his own discretion.

The 50-year-old is also accused of perjury for denying he intervened in a prosecution probe into failed rescue efforts during the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry that killed more than 300 passengers, mostly high school students.

Woo is seen as a key figure in the massive scandal. But the prosecution's efforts to build a strong case against him have hit a snag as they have little decisive evidence to prove the allegations. Their request for an arrest warrant on Woo was rejected by a court twice.

Woo Byung-woo, the former presidential secretary for civil affairs, is surrounded by reporters as he enters a courthouse in Seoul on June 16, 2017. He was to stand his first trial over his involvement in an influence-peddling scandal that led to the removal of former President Park Geun-hye. (Yonhap)


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