The criminal trial of President Park Geun-hye's longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil descended into farce Monday as she faced off with her alleged ex-lover-turned-whistleblower.
Koh Young-tae was called to testify at the Seoul Central District Court, and under Korean law a defendant can question witnesses in person. The two had not seen each other since September last year, when Choi fled to Germany.
Koh arrived at around 2 p.m. and headed straight into court without answering questions from reporters. In a session lasting more than seven hours, Koh and Choi engaged in heated argument, often hurling insults at each other.
Choi's questions often focused on discrediting the witness rather than his testimony, but they often had the effect of undermining her own presentation as a harmless old woman barely holding on to her wits.
"You are prohibited from transferring money through bank accounts because of your bad credit record, yes?" Choi asked in one exchange. "I am not aware of that," Koh responded.
"What do you mean you don't know? And you tried to change your name to Koh Min-woo, but couldn't because of your record of drug abuse," she said. "That is absolutely not true," he answered.
The judge intervened as the two became increasingly emotional.
Earlier, Choi's lawyer Lee Kyung-jae interrogated Koh aggressively, not least over the suggestion that the massive corruption scandal that has brought down Park unraveled over a tiff about a lapdog.
Choi "visited your flat and became surprised after seeing some woman holding [Choi's daughter] Chung Yoo-ra's dog," Lee thundered. Koh answered, "That concerns my private life and I do not have to answer it."
He became incensed when Lee pointed out that according to Park's lawyers in her impeachment trial, the cause of the scandal was an affair between Koh and Choi that went sour.
"It's a pity that the defense team of the nation's leader made such comments in a respectable court of law," Koh said. "It makes me speechless to see them resorting to character assassination."
Choi allegedly met Koh, a former fencer, in a host bar where he supplemented his income.
In calmer moments, Koh delivered detailed testimony of how Choi repeatedly visited Cheong Wa Dae. When Lee asked him if he had any proof linking Choi to the president's affairs, Koh said, "Each time Choi visited Cheong Wa Dae, I would drop her off in front of Nakwon Arcade in Jongno, where [presidential administrative assistant] Lee Young-sun would pick her up."
Koh added, "Every time Choi went to Cheong Wa Dae, she would complain, 'The president is calling me and I'm so tired.' Choi would treat presidential secretaries as if they were her own staff."
Choi alleges that her company The Blue K, which landed lucrative official contracts, actually belonged to Koh, but he denied it. "If it was my own company, why would I have been fired?" he said.
He testified that Choi had her own office in the building and paid him a salary and expenses for the drab clothes he manufactured for Park in his clothes shop. He also denied threatening Choi that he would go public with the scandal.
Koh also insisted that Choi "practically ran" two dubious non-profits she set up under the aegis of Cheong Wa Dae and staffed with her cronies to extort vast sums from top conglomerates.
Earlier, Lee Sung-han, the former secretary general of one of the non-profits, the Mir Foundation, also engaged in heated argument with Choi. It was Lee who went public with recorded phone conversations with Choi after the influence-peddling scandal broke out. They showed that Choi tried to persuade him to cover it up.
Lee said he recorded the phone calls because he was afraid that the buck would be passed to him although it was Choi who actually controlled the foundation.
Left: Koh Young-tae arrives at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday.; Right: Choi Soo-sil attends her trial at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday. /Yonhap