Prosecutors detain woman at centre of Park crisis
THE woman at the centre of the snowballing political scandal engulfing President Park Geun-hye has been put under emergency detention after prosecutors said she was “unstable” and a flight risk.
Choi Soon-sil, who faces allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs over her decades-long friendship with Ms Park, was grilled for hours on October 31 after she returned to the country from Germany and handed herself in following mass street protests.
“There is a possibility of Choi trying to destroy evidence as she is denying all the allegations,” a prosecution official told the Yonhap news agency, explaining the decision to hold her for 48 hours.
“She has fled overseas in the past, and she doesn’t have a permanent address in this country, making her a flight risk. She is also in an extremely unstable psychological state.”
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 and having no security clearance.
She flew back to Seoul from Germany on October 30 and was mobbed by hundreds of journalists and angry protesters waving placards demanding her arrest.
Dressed from head to toe in black, Ms Choi lost her hat, sunglasses and one Prada shoe as she struggled through the scrum to the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office.
“Please forgive me. I have committed a deadly sin,” Ms Choi said after she made it inside the building.
After a night in detention, she was escorted back to the prosecutors’ office early yesterday wearing prison uniform for another round of questioning – which could last for days, Yonhap said.
Prosecutors have to decide whether to seek a warrant to formally arrest Ms Choi before the emergency detention period expires.
Ms Park and Ms Choi have been close friends for 40 years. The precise nature of that friendship lies at the heart of the scandal which has triggered a media frenzy in South Korea, with lurid reports of religious cults and shamanistic rituals.
Suggestions that Ms Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents have exposed Ms Park to public anger and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, pushed her approval ratings off a cliff.
According to a survey published yesterday, Ms Park’s approval rating was 9.2 percent, with 67pc of voters saying she should step down.
The Hankyoreh newspaper reported that Ms Choi had been a frequent visitor to the presidential Blue House since Ms Park took office in 2013 something the administration has staunchly denied. –
Traffic passes Gyeongbokgung palace and the presidential Blue House (centre, top) in Seoul.