Prosecutors quiz woman at core of political crisis
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 Ms Park’s resignation, Choi Soon-sil – who has denied any criminal wrongdoing – submitted to prosecutors in Seoul a day after flying back to the country from Germany.
Ms Park and Ms 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 Ms Choi as a Rasputinlike figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Ms Park and interfered in government policy despite holding no official post.
Suggestions that Ms Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents has exposed Ms Park to public anger and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, pushed her approval ratings off a cliff.
A task force, led by the head of the powerful Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office, has been set up to investigate the leak of presidential documents and whether Ms Choi meddled in state affairs.
Ms 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 use.
Ms Choi is the daughter of a late shadowy religious leader and onetime mentor of Ms Park, 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.
A public apology by Ms Park, in which she acknowledged seeking limited advice from Ms Choi, did little to
assuage public outrage and she has struggled to draw a political line under the crisis.
Ms Park carried out a partial reshuffle of her key aides on October 30 and is considering calls from her ruling Saenuri Party to form a neutral multi-party cabinet to restore public trust and national unity.
In a message sent to reporters, one of her senior advisers who stepped down in the reshuffle described Ms Park as “lonely and sad”.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has stopped short of demanding the president’s resignation, but is refusing to begin cross-party talks until the investigation into Ms Choi has run its course.
Analysts say the scandal could paralyse Ms Park’s administration, underlining her lame-duck status ahead of presidential elections in December next year. –
Choi Soon-sil (centre) arrives at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office in Seoul yesterday.