Indie counsel to raid Blue House

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Indie counsel to raid Blue House

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Left, Park Geun-hye supporters oppose her impeachment in Andong, North Gyeongsang, on her birthday Thursday. Right, police stand guard as a group of civic activists protest the deployment of the Thaad battery to Korea in front of the government complex in central Seoul amid a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. [YONHAP]

Investigators from independent counsel Park Young-soo will raid the Blue House as early as today to search and seize evidence to support the abuse of power and influence-peddling charges involving President Park Geun-hye and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.

While the Blue House fiercely resists the investigators’ raid plan, the independent counsel team has repeatedly said search and seizure of the presidential office and residence is inevitable, as they hope it will allow investigators to obtain evidence regarding allegations that Park received bribes from conglomerates, ordered the creation of a blacklist of artists critical of her administration and received secret medical treatment.

The Blue House uses Article 110 of the Criminal Procedure Act as its grounds to refuse the raid. Search and seizure shall not be conducted at a place in respect of which military information shall be kept confidential, unless approval from the person in charge is obtained, it said. “The person in charge referred to in the preceding paragraph may not refuse to grant such consent, except where compliance would be prejudicial to important interests of the state,” it also said.

Speculations were high that the investigators’ targets are Park’s residence inside the Blue House compound, offices of the chief of staff, senior civil affairs secretary and personal affairs secretary, medical office and the Presidential Security Office.

“We can raid any places and search and seize any goods that are involved in criminal charges,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Thursday. Asked what places inside the Blue House will be raided, Lee said, “All locations involved in the suspicions are subject to our raid.”

Lee also shot down the Blue House’s argument that the investigators cannot conduct search and seizure operation inside the Blue House compound. “That’s just the Blue House’s position,” he said. “We will exercise the warrant according to the law.”

He did not elaborate on whether the team applied for or obtained a warrant.

For the raid, a special team of two assistant counsels, two senior prosecutors and four assistant prosecutors was created.

Concerns were made earlier that the Blue House probably had enough time to destroy evidence, since the scandal first made headlines in October and the prosecution already conducted an investigation. The independent counsel team, however, said a search and seizure is necessary to investigate the evidence destruction charge, as well.

“The Blue House is an archive of presidential records, and the records are required to be preserved,” assistant counsel Lee said during his Tuesday briefing. “No matter how hard you try to destroy evidence, it is impossible. And if there is an attempt, it will show.”

Earlier Thursday, local newspapers reported that the independent counsel selected six locations for the raid, and the Blue House only allowed the team access to three places outside the main presidential office building. Presidential Spokesman Jung Youn-kuk, however, denied the report. “The Blue House’s position remains unchanged that no raid is allowed inside the compound,” he said.

The independent counsel team is also preparing a face-to-face questioning of President Park, with an aim to conduct the interrogation before Feb. 10. “Because having the questioning is extremely important, we may do it without disclosing the session to the public,” Lee said.

During the initial probe by the prosecution last year, prosecutors made repeated requests to question the president in person but failed. Park, who promised to cooperate with the prosecution’s questioning in her public apology, later reversed her position and rejected the prosecutors’ request. She also did not allow the prosecutors’ two attempts to raid the Blue House.

Because Park’s presidential power is suspended since her impeachment in December, no Blue House aides are expected to accompany her.

BY HYUN IL-HOON, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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