Parliament hearing focuses on Park’s alleged inaction during ferry disaster

December 14, 2016

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s National Assembly started the third round of hearings on the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday, this time focusing on her alleged inaction at the time of a deadly ferry disaster on April 16, 2014.

Of the 16 figures summoned, 13 appeared before the special committee, including her former aides and medical experts, who will be questioned about allegations she neglected her duties during the “the missing seven hours.”

The presidential office argued that Park was updated with written reports on that day but has yet to say what exactly the president was doing. Rumors have spread that Park received medical treatment, as well as hair services, during the critical hours.

Park was impeached last week by the National Assembly. Her failure to fulfill her constitutional duty as president to protect the lives of the people was cited as a major reason for the impeachment.

The witnesses present at the latest hearing session included Kim Young-jae and Cha Kwang-yul, who head hospitals regularly visited by Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil, a key suspect in the scandal, and a nurse officer with the Presidential Security Service.

The lawmakers’ questioning was focused on Kim Sang-man, who worked as presidential medical advisor, to find out if Park received placenta injections.

Kim Sang-man was earlier investigated by the prosecutors for prescribing placenta injections for Park under Choi’s name. He also admitted to giving medical treatments to Park even before being designated as the medical advisor.

Rep. Kim Han-jung of the main opposition Democratic Party said Park is suspected to receiving injections even amid the ferry tragedy, adding a photo taken in May 2014 showed Park had bruises on her face.

Another lawmaker from the party said injections were given even on the day of the sinking.

Shin Bo-ra, who formerly served as a nurse officer at the presidential office, however, claimed she was not aware of the bruises. Shin also said she only delivered mouthwash and eye drops to the president on the day of the sinking.

Kim Young-jae said the bruises seem to be made from shots, but added he was not responsible for them. He said he was tending to a private matter during the so-called missing seven hours, ruling out possibilities he provided treatments to the president on the day.

Three key figures, including nurse officer Cho Yeo-ok, however, did not show up, citing personal reasons. Cho, who currently resides in the United States, is likely to appear at the National Assembly next week, the defense ministry said.

The parliament issued orders of accompaniment for the remaining two witnesses, both presidential officials. 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 also said it will conduct an on-site investigation into the presidential security office on Friday.

The presidential office, however, rejected the plan, citing concerns about the possible leak of confidential information.

During the two previous sessions last week, the parliament committee questioned business tycoons and Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil’s key acquaintances.

The committee will hold a fourth inquiry session on Thursday focusing on the Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra. The former member of the national equestrian team was accused of receiving unlawful favors from her high school and university under her mother’s influence.

Chung Yun-hoi, Park’s former secretary and ex-husband of Choi, was also summoned for questioning, although he did not express the intention to show up for the session yet.

Kim Young-jae, who heads a local hospital frequently visited by President Park Geun-hye's confidante Choi Soon-sil, delivers an oath during a questioning held at the Seoul-based National Assembly on Dec. 14, 2016.

Kim Young-jae, who heads a local hospital frequently visited by President Park Geun-hye’s confidante Choi Soon-sil, delivers an oath during a questioning held at the Seoul-based National Assembly on Dec. 14, 2016.