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President Park Associate Makes Appearance in South Korean Court

Choi Soon-sil, center, the jailed confidante of disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye, appears for the first day of her trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 19, 2016.

The jailed confidante of South Korea's president who has been charged with attempted fraud made an appearance at her hearing Monday in Seoul.

Prosecutors say Choi Soon-sil forced South Korea's biggest corporations to donate tens of millions of dollars to two foundations she controlled. Choi is alleged to have funneled some of the funds to her private companies and side contracts.

She has denied all criminal charges against her.

Much of public outrage over the scandal has been driven by Choi’s portrayal in the Korean media as a malevolent shaman who secretly controlled naive President Park Geun-hye, directing both presidential policies and subordinates without holding an official position in government.

Park’s relationship with Choi dates back to the 1970s, during the time her father, Park Chung-hee, ruled South Korea for 18 years after coming to power in a coup.

Choi’s father, Choi Tae-min, a religious cult leader who founded a sect called the Eternal Life Church, became a mentor to Park while she was acting as first lady after her mother was killed during an assassination attempt on her father.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 17, 2016.
Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 17, 2016.


Prosecutors in the case have named the president a criminal subject in the investigation and claim she was involved with Choi in directing subordinates to pressure Korean corporations to fund the favored sports and cultural foundations.

The president has defended her support for corporate-funded foundations as being in the national interest. But she maintains she never personally benefited from these projects and was unaware of any illegal actions allegedly taken by those around her.

Her critics say the president was either complicit in the alleged crimes or criminally negligent in permitting them to go on.

Earlier this month, the National Assembly voted to impeach Park.

The Constitutional Court has six months to review the legitimacy of the impeachment motion. If the court affirms, a new presidential election will be scheduled within two months of the ruling.

With the passage of the impeachment vote, Park was immediately suspended from office. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has become acting head of state.

Park has maintained the actions she took were in the national interest and insists she never personally benefited during her 18 years of public service. She also offered three public apologies for not being aware that some of her close associates may have been involved in some wrongdoings.