Indie counsel prepares for raid of Blue House

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Indie counsel prepares for raid of Blue House

Special prosecutors team is ready to conduct an unprecedented raid of the Blue House, a spokesman of the independent counsel team investigating the abuse of power and influence-peddling scandal of President Park Geun-hye and her associates said Tuesday.

“We have numerously stressed the need to raid the Blue House, and we completed all legal reviews to conduct the raid,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said during a press briefing on Tuesday. “We are currently looking into the methods.”

While Lee did not mention any specific targets of the raid, speculations were raised in the legal community that the independent counsel will likely raid the presidential residence inside the Blue House compound, medical office and Presidential Security Service. The offices of the civil and political affairs senior secretaries and the chief of staff were also suspected targets.

Sources from the team of the independent counsel, Park Young-soo, have said the raid is necessary before it questions President Park. The team earlier said it wants to have a face-to-face questioning with the president in early February at the latest.

The independent counsel team will only take the Lunar New Year holiday on Saturday off and continue their investigation throughout the rest of the holiday season. Speculation was high that the raid will likely take place in the first or second week of February.

Lee said Tuesday that the independent counsel obtained a warrant on Monday to take custody of Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of Park accused of using undue influence over state affairs. “We will arrest her later, taking into account other schedules,” Lee said. Choi is currently undergoing her own criminal trial.

After showing up for an initial questioning at the independent counsel, Choi rejected six further summons and the counsel obtained the warrant this week to force her to show up for questioning.

Lee also said the independent counsel wants to conclude the Samsung bribery scandal first before moving to other conglomerates. Its primary target so far is the suspicion that Samsung bribed President Park through Choi in return for the state-run pension fund’s support for a merger to solidify Lee Jae-yong’s control over the group.

The independent counsel suspects Samsung’s massive donations to two nonprofit foundations, controlled by Choi, and conspicuously generous support for Choi’s daughter’s equestrian training were bribes in return for Park influencing the National Pension Service to approve the merger of the two Samsung units that it had invested in.

Meanwhile, a former head of a sports foundation at the center of the scandal said Tuesday that he believed the president was the actual creator of the foundation.

Former K-Sports Foundation Chairman Jeong Dong-chun testified Tuesday as a witness in a trial of Choi and An Chong-bum, former presidential senior secretary for policy coordination. Choi and An were indicted in November on charges of coercing conglomerates to pay massive donations to the two foundations.

The prosecution said at the time more than 50 companies paid 77.4 billion won ($66.3 million) to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations. It also named Park as a co-conspirator of the extortion scheme, but did not press charges against her due to her immunity, guaranteed by the Constitution.

Park, impeached in December, will face a criminal investigation if the Constitutional Court rules to remove her from the office.

Asked by the prosecution if Choi was involved in the foundation’s operation, Jeong said, “To my knowledge, Choi was given the power and made personnel appointments.”

“At the time, the administration’s agenda of cultural projects were openly pushed forward and I thought the Federation of Korean Industries [KFI] created the foundation by collecting donations from companies,” he said.

Jeong added, “I believed the president’s power must have been needed to raise that kind of money.”

He also said Choi and Park had a close relationship. “The president’s will was reflected in operating the foundation,” Jeong said. “I don’t think Choi alone was capable of raising money through the FKI.”

Although Choi has repeatedly denied her tie to the K-Sports Foundation, Jeong said Choi was called as its chairman by the members. Jeong was named the head of the foundation in May, 2017. Until the appointment, he operated a sports massage center in Seoul, frequently visited by Choi for over five years. He stepped down from the post in September last year after the scandal broke out.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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