Prosecutors intend to summon Woo next week

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Prosecutors intend to summon Woo next week

Special prosecutors plan to summon Woo Byung-woo, former civil affairs aide of President Park Geun-hye, next week to investigate allegations surrounding his abuse of power and dereliction of duty.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and his team are looking into the corruption and abuse of power scandal involving President Park and her associates. Woo, who served as senior civil affairs secretary of the Blue House from 2014 to 2015 and as the senior civil affairs secretary until October 2016, is also a target of its investigation.

The senior civil affairs secretary is a powerful post that supervises the prosecution, police and the National Intelligence Service. Park resisted months of pressure to fire Woo, accused of corruption, but let him go in the aftermath of her own scandal.

“Taking into account the deadline of our investigation, we need to question him by next weekend at the latest,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Wednesday. The independent counsel’s probe is scheduled to end on Feb. 28. It is considering seeking a 30-day extension, but it requires the approval of the acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

In addition to his own corruption and abuse of power charges, Woo was accused of having turned a blind eye to the power Park gave to her friend Choi Soon-sil in state affairs. The independent counsel also said suspicions were raised that Woo might have meddled in the Culture Ministry’s appointments.

Investigators also suspect that Woo was behind Lee Seok-su’s resignation from his special inspector post and the subsequent dismantlement of the office after Lee launched an investigation into his corruption. Investigators already questioned Lee and his assistant about the matter.

Lee, appointed in 2015 by President Park as the first independent inspector general to operate a new anticorruption system against top Blue House aides and the presidential family, resigned in 2016 after he faced a prosecution’s probe into an alleged leak of details in his investigation.

Before accepting Lee’s resignation, the Blue House launched attacks against him. It accused Lee of leaking information regarding his probe in to Woo. Lee concluded that the prosecution would have to take over and question Woo on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power. The prosecution briefly questioned Woo in November, but did not press charges. The prosecutors were also fiercely criticized for going easy on him, as he was once a member of the prosecution.

Woo was also accused of interfering in the prosecution’s investigation into the Coast Guard’s failed rescue operation in the Sewol ferry sinking.

Although the independent counsel vowed to target Woo, who used his influence over the prosecution and legal knowledge to dodge a criminal indictment, concerns grew inside the team about some investigators’ willingness to go after him.

“Prosecutors dispatched to the team were particularly reluctant to investigate the Ministry of Justice and the prosecution, as they have to go back to their job after the independent counsel probe ends in 20 days,” a source from the team told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Investigating allegations involving Woo’s influence over the special inspector’s resignation and the Sewol ferry requires the questioning of officials at the prosecution and the Justice Ministry.

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

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