South Korea prosecutors say President Park was accomplice in corruption scandal

PHOTO: Reuters

South Korean prosecutors said on Sunday that they believed President Park Geun-hye was an accomplice in a corruption scandal that has rocked her administration, in a heavy blow to her fight for political survival.

The prosecutors' comments, which came as they indicted a close friend of Park's and two of her former aides, are likely to spur stronger calls for her to step down or be impeached.

Park's close friend Choi Soon-sil and former presidential aide An Chong-bum were charged with abuse of power in pressuring companies to contribute funds to foundations at the centre of the scandal, said Lee Young-ryeol, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.

"The special investigation team concluded that based on the evidence secured to date, the president was in complicity with Choi Soon-sil, An Chong-bum and Jeong Ho-seong to a considerable degree," Lee told a news conference.

Jeong, also one of Park's former aides, was indicted for leaking classified information to Choi.

Park cannot be indicted because she has constitutional immunity, Lee said, but added: "We will continue to investigate the president," without elaborating.

Under the constitution, a sitting president cannot be indicted unless on charges of treason, but the conclusion by the prosecutors that Park was involved in the case prompted fresh calls from opposition parties for her to step down.

The main opposition Democratic Party and the centrist People's Party said Park will face impeachment proceedings if she refuses to resign. But they stopped short of saying they would immediately initiate such a move.

Analysts said the prosecutors' comments about the president's involvement increased the prospect that she would face impeachment.

"It provided a legal basis for impeachment proceedings, not only her moral and political liabilities," said Kim Jun-seok, a political science professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.

Park is unlikely to voluntarily step down because she would lose immunity against prosecution, Kim said. Her five-year term ends in February 2018.

"Then, the only option that is left for politicians given the worsening public sentiment is impeachment," he said.

South Korea's presidential Blue House did not have an immediate comment. Lee did not say when the prosecutors will question Park.

Park's lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha said the prosecutors' announcement was "deeply regrettable," according to South Korean media. Yoo did not respond to telephone calls or text messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Park has resisted calls to resign over the scandal but has publicly apologised twice, saying that it was caused by her shortcomings and that she had sought help from the business community in the belief it would benefit the economy, not for personal gain.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

DEEPENING ANGER

The indictments had been expected. Choi has been accused of conspiring with An to exert improper pressure on dozens of the country's biggest conglomerates to help raise 77.4 billion won ($65.59 million) on behalf of two non-profit foundations she controlled, according to the prosecutors.

Park has been rocked by allegations that Choi used her ties to the president to meddle in state affairs and wield improper influence. An and Jeong both stepped down late last month as the crisis deepened.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Seoul on Saturday in the fourth straight weekend of protests against Park, in the biggest public demonstrations the country has seen since the 1980s.

Park has pledged to co-operate in the investigation but pushed back on the prosecutors' plan to question her last week.

South Korea's parliament has approved a bill to appoint a special prosecutor, who will take over from state prosecutors and conduct a separate and a more wide reaching probe. The special prosecutor is expected to begin work next month.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

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