Park allows her justice minister to resign

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Park allows her justice minister to resign

President Park Geun-hye accepted the resignation of her justice minister on Monday, while delaying a decision on her senior civil affairs secretary’s request to leave the Blue House, as the National Assembly plans to impeach her as early as this week and appoint an independent counsel next month.

Following the prosecution’s conclusion that Park was a co-conspirator in a massive abuse of power scandal, Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong and Senior Civil Affairs Secretary Choi Jai-kyeong expressed their intentions to quit on Nov. 21. Park spent a week to make a decision on their resignation letters, fueling speculation that she was trying to dissuade them from leaving.

“Park accepted the resignation of the justice minister,” Blue House spokesman Jung Youn-kuk said Monday evening. “She deferred her decision on Choi’s resignation letter.”

Kim was appointed to the post, which oversees the criminal justice system and other legal affairs of the administration, in July 2015. Choi was appointed on Oct. 30 and received his credential on Nov. 18 for the powerful post that oversees not only police and prosecution, but also the National Intelligence Service.

Park also refused prosecutors’ demand for a face-to-face interrogation by Tuesday, her latest refusal to be questioned about her role in the abuse of power and influence-peddling case centered around her friend Choi Soon-sil.

Park relayed her refusal through her lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha, who sent a text message to reporters in which he said his client could not meet prosecutors’ demand for questioning by Tuesday.

In the message, Yoo, a former prosecutor, said Park was having a hard time arranging her schedule, citing her upcoming selection of a chief prosecutor to lead an independent council into the so-called Choi-gate scandal. The National Assembly is scheduled to recommend two candidates for a chief special prosecutor to Park, who will have to choose one as special counsel by Friday.

“I find it regrettable that I cannot cooperate for the Tuesday questioning requested by the prosecutors,” said the lawyer. Yoo said that as her attorney he needed more time to prepare for questions related to Cha Eun-taek, the director of TV commercials who was indicted a day before, and Cho Won-dong, former presidential secretary for economic affairs, who is also under investigation.

If Park is ever questioned, it will be the first face-to-face questioning of a sitting president.

Yoo lashed out at prosecutors for describing Park as a co-conspirator in a number of schemes by Choi and former presidential secretary An Chong-bum, among which was the strong-arming of tens of millions of dollars from conglomerates to set up two nonprofit foundations, in their indictments for Choi and An on Nov. 20.

The 33-page indictment explained in detail that Park was the mastermind behind the extortion scheme.

Yoo called the prosecutors’ naming of President Park as a suspect “a house of cards destined to collapse during the upcoming independent counsel probe and later in the courtroom.”

Prosecutors initially hoped to question Park as early as Nov. 15 but Park repeatedly rejected calls for questioning through her lawyer.

BY SER MYO-JA, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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