Ex-President Park Geun-hye seems to be one of the loneliest people in Korea now that she is estranged from her lifetime confidante Choi Soon-sil, whose antics led to her spectacular fall.
When the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday asked a court to freeze Park’s assets over a new bribery charge, it was revealed that she has entrusted her lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha with W4 billion in 30 checks worth W100 million each and W1 billion in cash.
According to prosecutors, most of the money is the profit she made from selling the rambling mansion in Samseong-dong where she lived alone. She sold the house for W6.75 billion and bought a new, more modest house in Naegok-dong for W2.8 billion in April last year.
It is unclear whether she gave the money to Yoo as a retainer, is trying to buy his loyalty, or simply could not trust anyone else to look after her assets now she is in jail and likely to stay there.
Yoo has reportedly claimed he is keeping the money as a retainer although he resigned from representing her in November in protest at the court’s decision to extend her detention, and indeed she has now re-hired him to defend her on the new charge.
But prosecutors also said there is no paperwork putting Yoo’s fees at remotely that level, and nothing registered in Yoo’s tax files in relation to this.
Park hired a total of seven lawyers since her trial began in May last year. The highest fee paid to any of them was around W100 million, and the rest were paid between W20 million and W30 million each.
“Even if Park gave more money to some of the lawyers, it is very hard to believe that she set aside that much money for her legal fees,” said one lawyer.
Yoo has been a close aide to Park since he was her legal adviser on the road to becoming the presidential candidate for the Grand National Party in 2007.
Park had checks worth W3 billion delivered to Yoo through her former staffer Yoon Jeon-choo in April last year, when Park and Choi were jailed.
Park, who is pathologically reclusive, has a history of throwing her entire trust on one or two people and then letting them run her life.
The first stirrings came when she entrusted Choi and her charlatan father Choi Tae-min with the management of Yukyoung Foundation, which was named after her mother Yuk Young-soo. This led to serious discord with her father, strongman Park Chung-hee, and his aides, who warned even then of the Chois’ unhealthy influence.
A memo from Choi Soon-sil was recently unveiled detailing how much money Park gave to her long-time flunkeys Lee Jae-man, Ahn Bong-geun, and Jeong Ho-seong from illicit funds from the National Intelligence Serivce. “You can see that Park is still totally dependent on someone else,” said one lawyer.