Impeached South Korean leader rejects corruption accusations
Impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye has vehemently rejected accusations that she conspired with a long-time friend to extort money and favours from companies, accusing her opponents of framing her.
In a meeting with a selected group of reporters, Ms Park denied giving her jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, extraordinary sway over government decisions and dismissed allegations that her administration blacklisted thousands of artists for their political beliefs, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.
It was the first time Ms Park had spoken to the media since South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament voted on December 9 to impeach her over the scandal, which has seen millions of people protest in recent weeks.
In her meeting with reporters, Ms Park denied the accusations, saying she was "totally framed", according to Yonhap.
"The matter is under investigation, so I can't make detailed explanations that might put both sides in trouble, but what I can assure you is that I have never conspired with anyone or did anything to give favours to someone, not even by a bit," Yonhap quoted her as saying.
The Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether she should be permanently removed from office or be reinstated. On Friday, the court said Ms Park cannot be forced to testify at her impeachment trial, which is about to enter its argument phase.
Ms Park's downfall came after state prosecutors in November accused her of colluding with her friend to bully companies into giving tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi and also allowing Choi to interfere with government decisions from the shadows.
They have handed the investigation to a special prosecution team focusing on proving bribery suspicions between Ms Park and the Samsung Group, which is suspected of sponsoring Choi in exchange for government favours.
A former health ministry official was arrested on Saturday over suspicions that he forced the National Pension Service to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year.
The deal shaved the fund's stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars, but allowed Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong to promote a father-to-son succession of leadership and increase the group's corporate wealth.
Investigators are trying to confirm whether Ms Park instructed government officials to help the merger go through and then had them press Samsung to provide Choi with money and favours.