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Politics

No smoking gun found in Park hearing

Allegations remain just that as impeachment train barrels ahead

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Former Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, right, and video director Cha Eun-taek attended a public hearing at the parliament Wednesday over a scandal involving President Park Geun-hye.   © Kyodo

SEOUL -- A two-day hearing in the National Assembly failed to unearth proof of public prosecutors' contention that South Korean President Park Geun-hye misused her office to help an old friend.

The hearing aimed to gather evidence relating to a presidency-threatening scandal centering on years of undue influence on government affairs by Park confidante Choi Soon-sil.

But hopes of testimony pointing a finger directly at Park on the final day of Wednesday were dashed. Such key witnesses as Choi, former presidential secretary Ahn Chong-bum and former presidential aide Jeong Ho-seong did not show up, citing a need to prepare legal defenses or health reasons.

Kim Ki-choon, Park's chief of staff when the Sewol ferry sank in April 2014, did appear. Lawmakers bombarded Kim with questions about the president's whereabouts on the day of the fatal accident.

About seven hours of that day remain unaccounted for. Kim faced questions from different angles but consistently replied that all he knew was that the president was in the Blue House, the presidential residence.

Multiple witnesses spoke of close ties between Park and Choi. Video director Cha Eun-taek testified having met Kim around 2014 at Choi's introduction. But the former chief of staff said he met Cha on the president's orders, indicating that the meeting might have been arranged by both Park and Choi.

Cha told lawmakers that he first got to know Choi in 2014, adding that she asked him just a month or two later to recommend a suitable candidate for minister for culture, sports and tourism.

Ko Young-tae, rumored to be close to Choi, testified having heard Choi say that she often edited speeches of Park's.

Eight top officials of major conglomerates were grilled Tuesday on allegations that the president had pressured them to donate to Choi's cultural and sports foundations. Executives including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin admitted to having met with Park alone but strongly denied that the president had solicited donations.

This contradicted prosecutors' accusations of Park playing a role in Choi's efforts to extort money from businesses for her foundations.

Lawmakers talked so much at the hearing that witnesses answered questions for just 69 minutes out of the scheduled eight and a half hours.

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