South Korea’s Park col­luded with aide in graft scan­dal

Co­er­cion and abuse of power charges for aid

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: South Korean prose­cu­tors said yes­ter­day that Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye had col­luded with her close con­fi­dante in a cor­rup­tion and in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal that has sparked mas­sive na­tion­wide protests and calls for her im­peach­ment.

Park’s long­time friend Choi Soon-Sil was charged yes­ter­day with co­er­cion and abuse of power, as was one of the pres­i­dent’s for­mer aides. An­other pres­i­den­tial aide was charged with leak­ing con­fi­den­tial state doc­u­ments. “The pres­i­dent played a col­lu­sive role in a con­sid­er­able por­tion of the crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing the (three) peo­ple,” said Lee Young-Ryeol, a Seoul prose­cu­tor who is lead­ing a probe into the scan­dal.

Choi, 60, has been ac­cused of us­ing her per­sonal ties to Park to med­dle in state af­fairs and of co­erc­ing lo­cal firms to “do­nate” more than $60 mil­lion to du­bi­ous non-profit foun­da­tions. She al­legedly then used some of the funds for per­sonal gain. Park faces al­le­ga­tions that she helped Choi ex­tract money from the firms and that she or­dered her aides to leak state doc­u­ments to Choi, who has no of­fi­cial ti­tle or se­cu­rity clear­ance.

Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent can­not be charged with a crim­i­nal of­fence ex­cept in­sur­rec­tion or trea­son. But she can still be probed by prose­cu­tors and pos­si­bly charged af­ter leav­ing of­fice.

Lee ac­knowl­edged that prose­cu­tors could not for­mally charge Park at present but vowed to con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate her. Prose­cu­tors had pre­vi­ously de­scribed the conservative leader as a wit­ness to Choi’s crimes but changed her sta­tus to that of a crim­i­nal sus­pect, said a se­nior prose­cu­tor at the in­ves­tiga­tive team. “From now on, she will be probed as a sus­pect... for vi­o­la­tion of Sec­tion 30 of the crim­i­nal code on col­lu­sion,” Roh Se­ung-Kwon told re­porters.

Im­peach­ment calls

The lat­est rev­e­la­tions piled pres­sure on op­po­si­tion party law­mak­ers to seek the im­peach­ment of Park, the daugh­ter of a for­mer pres­i­dent, who has about a year left in her five-year term.

Pres­i­dents serve only a sin­gle term in South Korea. The main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party has not se­ri­ously pushed for Park’s im­peach­ment due to fears of a back­lash from conservative vot­ers be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2017. But re­cent opin­ion polls suggest grow­ing sup­port for Park’s im­peach­ment, with the lat­est sur­vey show­ing 74 per­cent back­ing.

Park has promised to answer prose­cu­tors’ ques­tions-a move which would make her the first South Korean pres­i­dent to be quizzed by prose­cu­tors while in of­fice. More than 50 lo­cal firms in­clud­ing Sam­sung and Hyundai were forced to do­nate a to­tal of 77.4 bil­lion won ($65.5 mil­lion) to the two foun­da­tions con­trolled by Choi.

Many made the dona­tions due to fear of po­lit­i­cal reprisals, such as harsh tax au­dits or dif­fi­cul­ties get­ting reg­u­la­tory ap­provals for their busi­nesses, prose­cu­tor Lee said. Choi also pres­sured ma­jor firms in­clud­ing the South’s largest car­maker Hyundai and top steel­maker Posco to award lu­cra­tive con­tracts to firms linked to her, he added. One of the aides leaked 180 con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments to Choi in­clud­ing pa­pers on for­eign pol­icy and the nom­i­na­tion of top offi- cials and cabi­net mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors. The scan­dal has sent Park’s ap­proval rat­ings plung­ing to five per­cent-the lowest for any sit­ting South Korean pres­i­dent.

The ever-widen­ing probe also shed light on ques­tion­able ties be­tween Choi’s fam­ily and the South’s largest and most pow­er­ful busi­ness group, Sam­sung. Sam­sung, which made the biggest do­na­tion to Choi’s foun­da­tions, is ac­cused of sep­a­rately of­fer­ing 2.8 mil­lion euros to Choi to bankroll her daugh­ter’s eques­trian train­ing in Ger­many.

It is also ac­cused of of­fer­ing dona­tions to a du­bi­ous foun­da­tion run by Choi’s niece, who is seen as her key aide and is fac­ing for­mal ar­rest by prose­cu­tors. Many se­nior Sam­sung of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the group scion Lee Jae-Yong, have been sum­moned to prose­cu­tors to answer their ques­tions. Choi is a daugh­ter of a shad­owy re­li­gious fig­ure who was a long­time men­tor to Park un­til his death in 1994. He is known to have be­friended Park af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of her mother in 1974.

—AFP

SEOUL: Lee Young-Ryeol, who is lead­ing a probe into the pres­i­den­tial scan­dal, an­nounces the in­terim probe re­sult at the Seoul Cen­tral Dis­trict Prose­cu­tors’ Of­fice yes­ter­day.

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