Park's lawyer denies all corruption charges at first hearing

Angela Jung, May 2, 2017, 9:43 a.m.

Former President Park Geun-hye's lawyer denied all the corruption charges that led to her dismissal during the first preliminary hearing of her trial Tuesday. Park, who has been jailed since March 31, was absent from the hearing at the Seoul Central District Court as her attendance was not mandatory.

Yoo Yeong-ha, her lawyer, said he would formally state his position on the charges after completing a review of the prosecution's investigation records, which amount to more than 120,000 pages.

A preliminary hearing is held to review the charges brought against a suspect and determine future proceedings.

The former leader faces 18 criminal counts of bribery, abuse of power, coercion and leak of government secrets, mostly involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and key former aides.

Prosecutors concluded last month that Park took or solicited bribes worth 59.2 billion won (US$51.9 million) from three conglomerates -- Samsung, Lotte and SK -- for herself or her friend.

"I demand an explanation of the details of the prosecution's indictment sheet," Yoo said.

The lawyer took issue with a series of alleged inconsistencies in the charges. He claimed Park's powers were suspended in December after the parliament passed an impeachment motion, but the prosecution made it appear that she exercised presidential authority until the Constitutional Court ruled to dismiss her in March.

He also demanded clarification on whether the alleged victims of power abuse and coercion were the conglomerates' leaders or the corporate entities themselves, and whether Samsung's donations to a sports foundation linked to Choi were motivated by fears of disadvantages to the nation's largest business group or in exchange for support for Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong's management succession plan.

Lee, Samsung's de facto leader, has been arrested on charges of providing or pledging 43.3 billion won to Choi and, in effect, Park, in return for her help in securing group control through a merger of the two key units.

The hearing was also attended by attorneys for Choi and Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin, although the suspects themselves were absent. They denied the bribery charges against their clients.

Choi's lawyer, in particular, accused the prosecution of indicting her twice on similar charges and requested the court clarify inconsistencies to help his client focus on what is necessary.

He claimed that the charges of bribery, abuse of power and coercion can't all hold when Lotte has gone from being a "victim of coercion" to an "offender."

The trial comes after a six-month probe that followed revelations of a tablet PC allegedly used by Choi. The device, obtained by a local TV channel, contained documents related to state affairs, some of which the prosecution concluded were official secrets.

Park is also accused of creating a blacklist of cultural figures deemed critical of the government who were then denied state support, and abusing her power to force local firms to sign business contracts with Choi's companies.

The former president has denied all charges.

If convicted, she could face a prison term ranging from 10 years to life.

Park is the country's third former president to stand trial over corruption allegations, after Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, who were convicted in the early 1990s.

The court said it will hold another preliminary hearing on May 16 before opening the first formal hearing on May 23. Unlike preliminary sessions, suspects are required to attend formal hearings.

That means Park and Choi could meet, in court, for the first time since the scandal erupted in October.

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