Prosecutors push to question president

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Prosecutors push to question president

Prosecutors on Wednesday requested that President Park Geun-hye submit to a face-to-face questioning regarding corruption allegations by next Tuesday, after she was recently booked as a suspect in the Choi Soon-sil scandal.

Park is now the first president in Korean history to face a criminal investigation as a primary suspect.

Prosecutors have now made three such requests, following those made to schedule the questioning by Nov. 16 and then by Nov. 18, after Park’s lawyer, Yoo Yeong-ha, repeatedly asked for more time to prepare. The date has now been extended to Tuesday after Yoo refused to cooperate with prosecutors on Sunday.

Choi and Park’s aides ? An Chong-bum, former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, and Jeong Ho-seong, Park’s former personal secretary for 18 years ? were formally charged on Sunday after weeks of interrogation.

Choi and An were charged with influence peddling and power abuse, and Jeong was charged with leaking state secrets to Choi. Park is accused of pressuring conglomerates to give money to two foundations run by Choi. Park, as the president and final decision-maker on policies, has the power to lift business regulations, and prosecutors suspect the conglomerates made the donations expecting business favors in return or for fear of retaliation.

The prosecution’s indictment on Sunday included a specific incident in which Park directly pressured the chairman of Lotte Group, Shin Dong-bin, to contribute to a construction project designed to benefit Choi.

Lotte pitched in 7 billion won ($5.9 million) in May 2016 in fear of possible repercussions, the indictment said.

Park’s lawyer refused to cooperate with the prosecution probe after their announcement on Sunday, claiming the investigation is a “house of illusion.” Yoo denied all charges against Park and added that he will wait for a future probe by a neutral independent counsel.

Park, in her second apology to the public over the scandal in early November, had promised to cooperate with the prosecution investigation. In light of the fact that she has since gone back on that promise, prosecutors may increase pressure on her.

According to a report by SBS on Tuesday, a prosecution official said releasing some 10 seconds of a recorded conversation between Park and her former personal secretary, Jeong, will lead to even greater mass outrage.

Hundreds of thousands people have been rallying for weeks to demand Park’s resignation.

“It is time for the prosecution to step up and request an arrest warrant for Park should she refuse to comply with another request for a face-to-face questioning,” a prosecutor wrote in the prosecution’s internal website server on Wednesday.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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