Seoul: The jailed confidante of disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye denied on the first day of her trial on Monday that she used her ties to the presidential ties to extort money from powerful companies.
The short, hour-long hearing at the Seoul Central District Court was the first public appearance in weeks for the woman at the heart of a scandal that led to Park's impeachment.
Choi Soon-sil, Park's friend of 40 years, wore black glasses and bowed deeply to the three judges before her lawyer, Lee Kyoung-jae, denied that Choi conspired with an ex-presidential adviser to pressure companies to donate money to foundations controlled by Choi.
"I'm sorry for causing trouble. I'll faithfully engage in (my) trial," Choi said.
The court reviewed the charges against Choi, who prosecutors say manipulated state affairs and extorted businesses. Choi's trial resumes again on December 29.
Ten others swept up in the scandal also face trial. Choi is also known as Choi Seo-won, which is how she was referred to in court.
It is South Korea's biggest trial since the 2014 court appearance of the crew of a ferry that sank and killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers.
Choi last appeared in public on October 31, when, after losing a Prada shoe in a crush of media and protesters, she told reporters at the Seoul prosecutors' office that she had "committed a sin that deserves death."
It's not clear how long the trial will last. Courts normally issue a verdict within six months of an indictment, so she'll likely get a verdict by May if prosecutors don't bring new charges.
Choi's lawyer, Lee, said today that prosecutors violated Choi's rights by illegally investigating her after she'd been
indicted. Choi is charged with abuse of power, extortion and attempted fraud. If convicted on all charges, she could receive up to 15 years in prison, according to court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan.
Before her arrest, Choi said she that received some of Park's speeches in advance but that she didn't know if they included confidential information. She denied the other allegations.
Prosecutors allege that Choi helped pressure 16 companies to donate a total of 77.4 billion won (USD 65.6 million) to create two nonprofit foundations, Mir and K-Sports.
According to the prosecution, Park first brought up the idea of launching the foundations and ordered her senior secretary for policy coordination at the time, Ahn Jong-beom, to ask companies to finance their establishment while letting Choi handle the appointment of foundation officials.