Former Presidential Aide to Testify in South Korea Scandal
John Kim, Dec. 13, 2016, 8:40 a.m.
Woo Byung-woo, a former aide to President Park Geun-hye previously thought to be in hiding, said Tuesday that he would testify before lawmakers about the scandal that led to the president’s impeachment last week. “Given that there has been repeated requests (for my attendance), I will (attend the parliamentary hearing session and) respectfully and faithfully respond to the (lawmakers’) questions,” said Woo in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.
Woo is among the witnesses being summoned for a parliamentary inquiry session on Dec. 22. The former prosecutor who served the now-impeached Park as senior secretary for civil affairs had previously nixed repeated calls for his attendance at a parliamentary hearing and went into hiding. Some opposition lawmakers had even promised a cash reward for tips on his whereabouts.
Woo was allegedly handpicked by Choi Soon-sil, President Park’s infamous friend at the center of the corruption scandal, for the powerful job of overseeing the inspection of many government agencies, including the prosecution. Park was impeached by the parliament last week on allegations that she allowed Choi, who holds no public positoin and has no policy background, to meddle in state affairs.
While many of Park’s former aides are under arrest and facing criminal charges, Woo has remained unscathed so far. Woo claimed that was not able to testify “due to rules that bar him from making public comments related to his job at the presidential office.” Opposition lawmakers serving at the bipartisan inquiry committee said that he has yet to notify them of his attendance.
“He has not told us that he will attend the inquiry,” said Rep. Kim Kyung-jin, who represents the runner-up opposition People’s Party at the committee. “He just said to a reporter close to him. I don’t think it is his official position.”
Woo also faces other allegations, including an accusation he embezzled money from a real estate company run by his family and that he abused his power to help his son secure an easy assignment during his mandatory military service. Woo has denied all allegations.
Now that Woo has decided to step up to the plate, the bipartisan committee has set their focus on the allegations surrounding the president that could prove to be crucial during her upcoming impeachment trial: Park’s missing seven hours during the Sewol ferry tragedy. The partisan committee is to hold a parliamentary inquiry Wednesday to find out whether Park neglected her duties to oversee rescue operations for seven hours during the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster which saw more than 300 people killed or missing.
Even though the presidential office claimed Park oversaw the situation at her private residence, rumors are rife that Park might have been doing something else. Once such rumor is that she was receiving plastic surgery with assistance from military medical officers during the nation’s worst-ever maritime disaster.
Cheong Wa Dae said last month that Park received briefings or issued directives related to the rescue operation. But it showed the president was not briefed by anyone in person and did not hold a meeting while the nation watched the ferry slowly sink on live TV, with hundreds of students on a class trip trapped inside.
“Given that the president was only briefed by paper, not in person, the president was not aware of the situation. It means that the president neglected her constitutional duty to protect the people’s lives and safety,” said the impeachment motion drafted by the opposition parties.
The committee summoned top presidential aides and presidential medical staff, who had worked at Cheong Wa Dae during the Sewol tragedy, in the hopes that they would provide exact information about the president’s whereabouts during the seven hours. Among the listed witnesses are Kim Jang-soo, former chief of Presidential National Security Office, and Kim Seok-kyun, former chief of the Coast Guard who handled the rescue operation. Former presidential doctors and medial officers are expected to testify as well.