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(2nd LD) Parliament quizzes former Park aide during scandal hearing

2016/12/22 14:39

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS details throughout)

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's National Assembly held the fifth round of inquiries over an influence-peddling scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Thursday, with the parliament continuing to face hurdles in obtaining significant testimonies.

The special committee looking into the case questioned former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo, who is accused of neglecting duties for allowing Park's old friend Choi Soon-sil to interfere in state affairs.

A former presidential nurse officer also faced questioning about Park's whereabouts during the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014. There have been allegations that Park did not fulfill her duty as the president during the accident that claimed more than 300 lives.

Former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo (R) and former presidential nurse officer Cho Yeo-ok attend the parliament's hearing on the influence-peddling scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil at the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 22, 2016. (Yonhap) Former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo (R) and former presidential nurse officer Cho Yeo-ok attend the parliament's hearing on the influence-peddling scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil at the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 22, 2016. (Yonhap)

Woo had been dodging the parliament's investigation until he appeared before the National Assembly on Thursday. The former secretary said he did not intend to avoid investigation but wished to avoid the media.

During the hearing, Woo said he "still does not know" Choi and claimed he only knew about her through news reports.

The former presidential secretary said he believes allegations surrounding Choi are groundless.

Woo was earlier investigated on the suspicion of embezzling funds from his family-owned company and influencing his son's conscription. He is also believed to have made a false disclosure of personal wealth by concealing real estate owned by his wife under a borrowed name.

Cho denied allegations that Park received facial injections for beauty purposes on the day of the sinking.

The nurse also said she never saw Park receiving such treatments from others as well. Cho also said the presidential office does not have the psychotropic drug propofol.

Cho, however, declined to comment on whether Park was suffering from sleeping disorders, adding such information is private.

Other key witnesses summoned, including Choi and Ahn Jong-beom, former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, however, said they will not attend.

The parliament issued orders of accompaniment for 12 witnesses who declined to attend the hearing. The order is issued to forcefully make a suspect or witness appear at a hearing when he or she refuses to attend without a justifiable reason.

The committee said it will hold another hearing in prison if witnesses currently in custody continue to decline to accept summons for the parliament's investigation.

Lawmakers also decided to request the independent counsel to investigate the perjury allegations linked with the ruling Saenuri Party. Rep. Yi Wan-young is suspected of telling key witnesses to deliver false testimonies, although he has denied such allegations.

The parliament has been summoning various figures from business tycoons to Choi's acquaintances over the past weeks, but sessions have mostly ended fruitless amid the absence of key figures while participants have remained silent.

colin@yna.co.kr

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