South Korean prosecutors say ex-president Park Geun-hye’s office fabricated reports on 2014 ferry sinking

SEOUL, March 28 (UPI) — Former aides of disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye will stand trial on the charge of altering records regarding the 2014 Sewol Ferry sinking which claimed more than 300 lives.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said Wednesday that it indicted Park’s former chief-of-staff Kim Ki-choon for fabrication and abuse-of-power.

Former heads of the National Security Office Kim Jang-soo and Kim Kwan-jin were also indicted over suspected damaging of public documents and ex-presidential secretary Yoon Jeon-choo for perjury, Yonhap reported.

This comes after prosecutors launched a probe into suspicions that Park’s office had deliberately revised the time she was first informed of the accident, in order to cover up the ex-president’s whereabouts at the time of the sinking.

Park was widely criticized by the public for mishandling the maritime disaster, as she was slow to respond and address the crisis. Her “seven missing hours” fuelled speculation and conspiracy theories on her unaccounted activities and whereabouts, eventually contributing to her impeachment from office.

According to the prosecution’s probe, the ferry carrying 476 passengers began to sink before 9 a.m. and was completely underwater by 10:30 a.m.

Investigators found that Park first received news of the ferry’s sinking around 10:20 a.m., an hour after her chief national security adviser Kim Jang-soo was notified of the accident.

As Kim could not reach her through two attempted phone calls, the report was delivered through her aide who drove to her official residence, after which Park gave her first instructions at 10:22 a.m, JoongAng Ilbo reported.

Her chief-of-staff Kim Ki-choon has been accused of drawing up false documents to create the impression that Park had been notified of the briefing at an appropriate time, and had been updated with 11 additional reports that day.

However, prosecutors discovered the ex-president had been briefed only two more times on paper through her aide.

Meanwhile, Kim and Kim Kwan-jin are suspected of ordering officials to delete a clause in the national crisis management guidelines that designate the National Security Office as the control tower of national disasters.

Prosecutors also said Park’s longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil visited Park’s residence on the day of the Sewol disaster.