Constitutional Court Questions Former Health Minister over Samsung Merger's Choi Soon-sil Gate Connection
SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- A former health minister arrested over a corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye was summoned to her impeachment trial Thursday to testify on a controversial merger between two Samsung affiliates.
Moon Hyung-pyo, who served as minister from 2013 to 2015, was brought to the 12th hearing at the Constitutional Court to face questioning on allegations the conglomerate bribed Park in exchange for the government's backing of the 2015 merger between Samsung C&T Corp. and Cheil Industries Inc.
Moon was indicted on charges of pressuring the National Pension Service, a key shareholder of Samsung C&T, to agree to the merger. In return, Samsung is suspected of offering large "donations" to two nonprofit foundations linked to Park's friend Choi Soon-sil.
The former minister and current NPS chief, who has admitted to the charges, denied during the hearing that he acted on orders from the presidential office.
The court has until early June to decide whether to unseat or reinstate the president who was impeached in December over a massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving her and Choi.'
It also summoned three of Choi's associates to give separate testimonies on how the president's confidante operated the K-Sports Foundation, one of the two organizations supported by Samsung, and its alleged affiliate Blue-K.
Jo Seong-min, former head of Blue-K, testified that he determined based on circumstantial evidence that there was a connection between Choi and the president.
"When I submitted work or research proposals upon Choi's orders, she inserted my business card into the front cover and took them somewhere," he said. "Afterwards, I would receive phone calls from the senior presidential secretaries for education or economic affairs."
Park Heon-yeong, a director at the foundation, said later that Choi showed him classified government documents, including an itinerary of the president's overseas trips.
"In 2015, Choi showed me the culture ministry's budget proposal for 2016 and explained in detail how much of it we could spend," he said.
On Thursday, the court ordered both Park's lawyers and the National Assembly to submit the summary of their arguments by Feb. 23.
Also, the National Assembly requested the lawyers to decide by next Tuesday whether or not the president herself would appear before the court.
The president is not required to appear for hearings. Roh Moo-hyun, the last president to be impeached, never attended his trial in 2004 and was later reinstated.