South Korean prose­cu­tors ar­rest woman at cen­tre of po­lit­i­cal cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The woman at the cen­tre of a scan­dal that has plunged the South Korean pres­i­dency into cri­sis was held for a sec­ond day yes­ter­day af­ter be­ing de­tained overnight to an­swer al­le­ga­tions of ex­ert­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­flu­ence in state af­fairs. Prose­cu­tors have said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Choi Soon-sil used her friend­ship with Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye to gain ac­cess to clas­si­fied doc­u­ments that en­abled her to in­flu­ence govern­ment mat­ters and ben­e­fited per­son­ally through non­profit foun­da­tions.

The grow­ing scan­dal has sparked pub­lic anger and sent Park’s ap­proval rat­ing to a record low, with thou­sands of pro­tes­tors gath­ered in Seoul on Satur­day night call­ing for her to step down. Park ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tions of eight of her top aides over the week­end. Choi, 60, ar­rived at the prose­cu­tor’s of­fice yes­ter­day morn­ing in hand­cuffs and a sur­gi­cal mask and wear­ing a dark coat, es­corted by cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers.

A pros­e­cu­tion of­fi­cial and her lay­wer said she had been de­tained late on Mon­day. Al­though Choi was be­ing ques­tioned at an­other lo­ca­tion, a man used a heavy con­struc­tion ex­ca­va­tor to smash the front en­trance of the Supreme Prose­cu­tors’ Of­fice build­ing in Seoul, in­jur­ing a se­cu­rity guard, in an ap­par­ent act of protest against Choi. He was ar­rested by po­lice. Ac­cord­ing to Han Je­ung-sub, a se­nior of­fi­cial at the Seo­cho Po­lice Sta­tion, the 45-year-old man told po­lice: “Choi Soon-sil said she had com­mit­ted a crime she de­serves to die for, so I came here to help her die.”

Prose­cu­tors have asked eight banks for doc­u­ments re­lated to Choi’s fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions, South Korea’s Yon­hap News Agency re­ported, cit­ing un­named fi­nan­cial in­dus­try of­fi­cials. Wor­ried that Choi may be a flight risk and could de­stroy ev­i­dence, prose­cu­tors placed her un­der emer­gency de­ten­tion with­out a war­rant late on Mon­day, Yon­hap re­ported. Un­der lo­cal law, a sus­pect can be held with­out a war­rant for up to 48 hours.

Prose­cu­tors planned to file a court re­quest for an ar­rest war­rant to­day, Yon­hap and other me­dia said, cit­ing a pros­e­cu­tion of­fi­cial. Prose­cu­tors were not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment. Choi told South Korea’s Se­gye Ilbo news­pa­per last week that she re­ceived drafts of Park’s speeches af­ter Park’s elec­tion vic­tory but de­nied she had ac­cess to other of­fi­cial ma­te­rial, or that she in­flu­enced state af­fairs or ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially. Park said last week she had given Choi ac­cess to speech drafts early in her term and apol­o­gised for caus­ing con­cern among the pub­lic.

Bet­ter class of cell

Choi was be­ing held at the Seoul De­ten­tion Cen­ter, where the sin­gle cells for high-pro­file in­mates are equipped with floor heating, a tele­vi­sion, a fold­ing mat­tress and toi­let, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports. Choi had re­turned to South Korea on Sun­day from Ger­many via Lon­don un­der in­tense pres­sure to an­swer the al­le­ga­tions against her. Park, 64, and Choi have known each other for decades, and the pres­i­dent said in a tele­vised apol­ogy last week that her friend had helped her through dif­fi­cult times. Park’s fa­ther Park Chung-hee led South Korea for 18 years af­ter seiz­ing power in a mil­i­tary coup in 1961.

Park Geun-hye served as act­ing first lady af­ter her mother was killed by an as­sas­sin try­ing to shoot her fa­ther, who was him­self mur­dered by his dis­grun­tled spy chief in 1979. Park is in the fourth year of a five-year term and the cri­sis threat­ens to com­pli­cate pol­i­cy­mak­ing dur­ing the lame-duck pe­riod that typ­i­cally sets in towards the end of South Korea’s sin­gle-term pres­i­dency. The scan­dal has weighed on the South Korean cur­rency and stocks, as in­vestors fret about po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, with the won fall­ing 0.9 per­cent last week while stocks slipped 0.7 per­cent. Choi begged for­give­ness when she ar­rived to meet prose­cu­tors on Mon­day. —Reuters

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