Prosecutors quiz S. Korea’s ‘Rasputin’
> Key figure in political scandal denies criminal wrongdoing
SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors yesterday questioned the woman at the centre of a political scandal that has shattered public confidence in President Park Geun-Hye, with allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs.
In the wake of mass street protests in Seoul and other cities to demand Park’s resignation, Choi Soon-Sil – who has denied any criminal wrongdoing – submitted to prosecutors in Seoul a day after flying back from Germany.
Park and Choi have been close friends for 40 years. The precise nature of that friendship lies at the heart of the current scandal which has triggered a media frenzy in South Korea, with lurid reports of religious cults and shamanistic rituals.
The media has portrayed the 60-year-old Choi as a Rasputin-like figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Park and interfered in government policy despite holding no official post and having no security clearance.
Suggestions that Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents has exposed Park to public anger and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, pushed her approval ratings off a cliff.
Televised footage of Choi’s arrival at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office showed a distraught-looking Choi – dressed head to toe in black with her face covered with a hat and scarf – as she stepped out of a black sedan to face hundreds of reporters.
Choi did not say a word as she sobbed and shoved her way into the building past reporters and protesters with placards that read “Arrest Choi Soon-Sil! Impeach Park Geun-Hye!”
“Please forgive me. I have committed a deadly sin,” Choi was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency after stepping inside the building.
A task force, led by the head of the Seoul prosecutors’ office, has been set up to investigate the leak of presidential documents and whether Choi meddled in state affairs.
Choi has also been accused of using her relationship with the president to coerce corporate donations to two non-profit foundations, and then siphoning off funds for her personal use.
“We hope that the various allegations can be thoroughly verified,” presidential spokesman Jung Youn-Kuk said.
Choi is the daughter of a late shadowy religious leader and one-time Park mentor called Choi Tae-Min, who was married six times, had multiple pseudonyms and set up his own cult-like group known as the Church of Eternal Life. – AFP
Choi (centre) reacts as she is surrounded by media upon her arrival at the prosecutors’ office in Seoul yesterday.