South Korean prosecutors summon Park for questioning

Supporters of South Korea's ousted leader Park Geun-hye gather outside her private home in Seoul, March 15, 2017/
PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday ordered ousted president Park Geun-Hye to appear before them next week for questioning over the corruption scandal that triggered her dramatic downfall.

Park, who was dismissed by the Constitutional Court last Friday, will be required to attend a prosecutors' office in Seoul next Tuesday, a spokesman said.

Read also: Park Geun-hye leaves Blue House, says 'truth will reveal itself'

A criminal suspect in the scandal, Park had repeatedly refused to make herself available for questioning by the prosecutors before the country's highest court confirmed a parliamentary impeachment motion against her.

Friday's final ruling stripped her of power and executive privileges, including protection from criminal indictment, and she left the presidential palace at the weekend.

Park's lawyer said Wednesday she would "co-operate" with the probe.

She is set to become the fourth former South Korean leader to be questioned by prosecutors over corruption scandals.

Two former army-backed leaders who ruled in the 1980s and the early 1990s - Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo - both served jail terms for bribery after they retired.

Another ex-president, Roh Moo-Hyun, killed himself by jumping off a cliff in 2009 after being questioned by prosecutors over suspected bribery.

The latest corruption and influence-peddling scandal is centred on Park's close confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who is on trial for abuse of power and coercion.

Choi is accused of using her presidential ties to force local firms including Samsung to "donate" nearly US$70 million (S$98.89 million) to non-profit foundations she allegedly used for personal gain.

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.

Park - the 65-year-old daughter of the late former strongman Park Chung-Hee - has been named as Choi's accomplice who helped her extract money from the firms.

The scandal that rocked the nation has also seen the heir to electronics giant Samsung, Lee Jae-Yong, arrested and charged with bribery for offering millions of dollars to Choi in return for policy favours from Park.

The former president is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including nomination of top officials and diplomats.

Park voiced defiance over the court ruling, saying "the truth will eventually be revealed" through her spokesman after returning to her private home on Sunday.

The ouster of Park - who had commanded a huge following among older, conservative South Koreans who benefited from the rapid growth under her father's 1961-79 rule - has sparked angry, sometimes violent protests by her supporters.

The presidential poll to choose Park's successor will be held on May 9, the public administration ministry announced Wednesday.

The scandal has left Park's conservative party in tatters - it has changed its name in an effort to relaunch itself - and fanned the popularity of liberal opposition parties.

Moon Jae-In, former head of the main opposition Democratic Party, holds a commanding lead in opinion polls.

His most likely conservative challenger after former UN chief Ban Ki-moon bowed out last month had been seen as Hwang Kyo-Ahn, Park's prime minister who has been standing in as acting president since her parliamentary impeachment in December.

But Hwang said Wednesday he would not stand, leaving the Liberty Korea party with no clear standard-bearer.

"I am aware of the voices of people who want me to join the presidential race," said Hwang said, who would have to step down as acting president if he was to become a candidate.

"I have concluded that it is inappropriate for me for stable governing and fair management of the election process," he told a cabinet meeting.

"I will only focus on carrying out my duties as acting president."

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