‘Korean Rasputin’ pleads not guilty at first court hearing

Seoul, Jan 5 (IANS) Choi Soon-sil, the main accused in a huge corruption scandal in South Korea that led to massive protests and impeachment of the country’s President, pleaded not guilty during the first formal hearing in the case on Thursday.

The hearing followed two preparatory hearings held in December, where Choi, a close friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, was charged with abuse of power and attempted fraud, Efe news reported.

Choi, dubbed the “Korean Rasputin”, has been in custody since early November, and denied all the charges against her, calling them “unjust”.

Choi is also charged with interfering in state matters, despite not holding any public office and of having pressurised large companies, including Samsung, to donate huge sums of money to non-profit foundations headed by her.

An Chong-bum and Jeong Ho-seong, two former close aides of the President, also attended the hearing, in what was their first public appearance since they were arrested in December.

An is accused of helping extort from the conglomerates some 77.4 billion won (nearly $65.3 million) for two foundations — of which Choi was de facto head — part of which she (Choi) may have later appropriated for personal use, while Jeong is accused of having handed over official and presidential documents to Choi.

An denied the charges and said he will press ahead with his defence in upcoming hearings, while Jeong’s lawyer did not clarify his client’s stance.

The first public hearing in the case is scheduled for January 17.

–IANS

soni/vt

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