Pres­i­dent now a sus­pect in cor­rup­tion scan­dal, say prose­cu­tors

The Myanmar Times - - World -

SOUTH Korean prose­cu­tors said yes­ter­day that Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye had col­luded with her close con­fi­dante in a cor­rup­tion and in­flu­en­ceped­dling scan­dal that has sparked mas­sive na­tion­wide protests and calls for her im­peach­ment.

Ms 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.

Ms Choi, 60, has been ac­cused of us­ing her per­sonal ties to Ms Park to med­dle in state af­fairs and of co­erc­ing lo­cal firms to “donate” more than US$60 mil­lion to du­bi­ous non-profit foun­da­tions. She al­legedly then used some of the funds for per­sonal gain.

Ms Park faces al­le­ga­tions that she helped Ms Choi ex­tract money from the firms and that she or­dered her aides to leak state doc­u­ments to M 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.

Mr Lee ac­knowl­edged that prose­cu­tors could not for­mally charge Ms Park at present but vowed to con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate her.

Prose­cu­tors had pre­vi­ously de­scribed the con­ser­va­tive leader as a wit­ness to Ms Choi’s crimes but have 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 said.

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

Pres­i­dents serve only a sin­gle term in South Korea.

The main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party has not se­ri­ously pushed for Ms 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 Ms Park’s im­peach­ment, with the lat­est sur­vey show­ing 74 per­cent back­ing.

Ms 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 Ms 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 Mr Lee said.

Ms 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 Ms Choi in­clud­ing pa­pers on for­eign pol­icy and the nom­i­na­tion of top of­fi­cials and cabi­net mem­bers.

The scan­dal has sent Ms Park’s ap­proval rat­ings plung­ing to 5pc – the low­est of any sit­ting pres­i­dent. –

Photo: AFP

Kore­ans stage an­other demon­stra­tion call­ing for the re­sign­tion of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye in Seoul on Novem­ber 19.

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