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Retrial starts for confidante of S Korea's ex-president

Retrial starts for confidante of S Koreas ex-president

Seoul: A new bribery trial opened Wednesday for the former confidante of ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye in connection with the sprawling scandal that brought down her friend, media reported.

Choi Soon-sil -- who became close to Park through her father, a shadowy religious figure -- received a 20-year prison term last year for using her presidential connections to force companies including Samsung to donate to foundations she controlled, among other charges.

But the Supreme Court in August sent both their cases, along with several others, back to the Seoul High Court for retrials, saying there had been errors in the judgements.

In her first court appearance in court in 14 months, Choi, 63, denied the accusations, claiming she did not play an influential role in the Park government but only "helped" her longtime friend while "living an ordinary life".

"I can vow to the heavens I didn't know any of the companies," she was quoted as saying by the South's Yonhap news agency, adding: "I was not in any way a secret power behind the throne."

Her defence team requested former president Park be summoned as a witness in the next hearing.

No date has yet been set for the retrial of Park, who is serving a 25-year jail term after being convicted last year on bribery and abuse of power charges.

Proceedings began last week for Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of tech giant Samsung Electronics, on charges of bribery, embezzlement and other offences.

The cases have highlighted shady links between big business and politics in South Korea, with Park and Choi accused of taking bribes from corporate bigwigs in exchange for preferential treatment.

But Choi's retrial is unlikely to result in a significant change to her initial verdict or sentence, independent attorney Shin Jang-sik told AFP.

"The Supreme Court ordered a retrial because it saw that those who bribed Choi did so rather actively," Shin said, "not by Choi's coercion".

"But that judgement won't much alter the equation in the court ruling on her."

One of the bribery charges Choi faces relates to three horses worth 3.4 billion won (USD 2.9 million) that Samsung Group donated for her daughter's equestrian training.

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