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S.Korea's Park denies wrongdoing in scandal – media

SEOUL South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Sunday denied allegations of wrongdoing in a political scandal that threatens her presidency, saying the accusations against her were “fabrication and falsehood”, local media reported.

Park said Choi Soon-sil, her long-time friend, was “merely an acquaintance”, and denied Choi was allowed to wield undue and wide-reaching influence over state affairs, Yonhap news agency and YTN television reported.

Park met domestic media reporters on Sunday in the first public event since her impeachment by parliament on Dec. 9. Her fate is in the hands of Constitutional Court judges who have up to 180 days to uphold the impeachment or reinstate her.

She has denied wrongdoing previously but apologised for carelessness in her ties with Choi, a friend for four decades, who has also denied wrongdoing. Choi is in detention while on trial.

Park was quoted on Sunday as saying that the decision by the country’s national pension fund to back a merger between two Samsung Group affiliates was “a just policy decision” made for national interest, and that the deal was supported by many brokerage firms at the time.

“I did not have an iota of thinking to help anyone and the thought never crossed my mind,” Yonhap quoted Park as saying.

The merger in 2015 of Samsung Group affiliates Cheil Industries Inc and Samsung C&T Corp has become central to the investigation of the scandal that led parliament to vote last month to impeach Park.

The merger has been criticised by some investors for strengthening the founding family’s control of Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest “chaebol”, or conglomerate, at the expense of other shareholders.

The National Pension Service, which had 545 trillion won ($451.78 billion) under management at the end of September and was a major shareholder in the two Samsung affiliates, voted in favour of the merger without calling in an external committee that sometimes advises it on difficult votes.

Park, 64, is accused of colluding with Choi to pressure big businesses including Samsung to make contributions to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives.

Park’s comments on Sunday were more detailed than previous ones and also touched on allegations of neglience over the handling of the Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014 that killed more than 300 passengers, mostly school children.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry and Mike Collett-White)