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South Korea’s Park denies charges as corruption trial begins

SEOUL, South Korea — Former President Park Geun-hye denied corruption charges Tuesday at the start of a criminal trial that could potentially send South Korea’s first female leader to prison for life.

Police had earlier escorted Park, in handcuffs, into court for her first public appearance since she was jailed on March 31 for corruption allegations that led to her removal from office.

Cameras flashed as Park emerged from a bus, her inmate number 503 attached to her dark-colored jacket, and walked into the Seoul Central District Court. Her hands were then uncuffed, and she entered the courtroom and sat before a three-judge panel while a throng of journalists captured images, often in extreme close-up, of her somber face.

When Judge Kim Se-yun asked Park what her occupation was, she replied, “I don’t have any occupation.”

Her longtime confidante and alleged co-conspirator, Choi Soon-sil, sat near Park. The two women had been friends for four decades but did not acknowledge each other.

Choi sobbed as she answered questions about her address and occupation. Park stared straight ahead as prosecutors read out the charges.

“The accused Park Geun-hye, in collusion with her friend Choi Soon-sil, let Choi, who had no official position, intervene in state affairs … and they abused power and pressured business companies to offer bribes, thus taking private gains,” said senior prosecutor Lee Won-seok.

Both Park and her lawyer, Yoo Young-ha, denied all wrongdoing. Asked whether she had anything to add, Park said in a calm, measured voice, “I will say afterward.”

Choi reportedly said in court, “I am a sinner for forcing former President Park, who I have known and watched for 40 years, to appear in a courtroom.” She also said, “I hope this trial truly frees former President Park of fault and lets her be remembered as a president who lived a life devoted to her country.”

Kim, the judge, said the court decided to combine Park’s and Choi’s cases, and set the next hearing for Thursday.