Indie counsel pushes to conclude investigation

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Indie counsel pushes to conclude investigation

With an approaching deadline, independent counsel Park Young-soo’s team started Monday to decide the fate of President Park Geun-hye for her alleged corruption and abuse of power.

The mandate of the independent investigation will end on Feb. 28, but the team has faced a series of obstacles over recent weeks to proving that the president, impeached in December for allowing her secret inner circle to influence state affairs, received bribes from conglomerates through her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

The special prosecutors’ attempt to detain Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong for bribing her was rejected by a local court, and the Blue House also turned down its plan to raid the presidential compound.

Its plan to question the president face-to-face also fell through as Park refused the scheduled meeting, blaming the independent counsel team for having leaked the date and location of the supposedly secret interrogation.

The independent counsel asked on Friday the Seoul Administrative Court to lift the Blue House’s block of the raid. It obtained the search and seizure warrant from the Seoul Central District Court to raid the presidential facilities, but the Blue House blocked the attempt on Feb. 3, 2017.

It said the Blue House stores military secrets, thus the special prosecutors are barred from entering the compound.

The Seoul Administrative Court held a meeting on Monday and scheduled a hearing on Wednesday to review the legitimacy of independent counsel’s petition. The court will hear from both the independent counsel and the Blue House about the situation.

If the court grants an injunction, investigators will be able to exercise the search and seizure warrant right away.

The ruling is expected to come on Wednesday at the earliest, taking into account the deadline of the investigation and the peculiar nature of the case.

The court’s Division 4, led by Judge Kim Gook-hyun, will review the case. Among the recent rulings made by the court is a civic groups’ petition to lift the police ban on weekend candlelight rallies near the Blue House. The court granted the request and allowed protesters to march near the Blue House as long as they respect the security perimeter there.

The independent counsel also made it clear that it wants to question President Park in person.

“Our position remains unchanged,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Monday. “And we cannot wait indefinitely. We must make contact and question her.”

Lee also refused to say for sure that the probe will end on Feb. 28, hinting at the possibility of seeking a 30-day extension as stipulated in the law. “We haven’t decided when the investigation will end,” Lee said. “We will make an appropriate judgment.”

After Park canceled the scheduled questioning for Thursday following local media reports on the plan, no contact between the independent counsel and her lawyers was made to reschedule the session, Lee said.

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

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