South Korean prosecutors summon Park for questioning

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.

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."