South Korean President to be probed over confidante scandal

Seoul, Nov 13 (IANS) South Korean prosecutors plan to investigate President Park Geun-hye early next week over her biggest political scandal involving longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil who is suspected of intervening in state affairs behind the scenes and peddling undue influence for personal gains.

According to media reports, a special investigative unit under the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in charge of investigation into the case has delivered to the presidential Blue House its request to investigate the scandal-plagued President on Tuesday or Wednesday, Xinhua news agency reported.

If the request is acceded to, Park would become the first incumbent South Korean President to be investigated by prosecutors.

Under the country’s constitution, a President is free from criminal indictment, but some law experts claim a criminal investigation is possible if the indictment is suspended until the end of the presidency.

Park, who took office in February 2013, has about 15 months left in her single, five-year term.

Face-to-face investigation is preferable in principle, the prosecution said, but details have not been decided upon where and how to probe the embattled President. It added that Park would be a reference witness during an investigation.

The scandal-hit President has made public apologies twice since the scandal came into focus last month, but public anger has not been appeased.

The largest mass rally in three decades was held on Saturday night to demand Park’s immediate resignation.

Organisers said about one million protestors took to the streets in Seoul alone, the biggest since an identical number of people protested against the military dictatorship in June, 1987.

Meanwhile, prosecutors summoned chiefs of key conglomerates, who are alleged to have had closed-door meetings with Park last year, over the weekend.

The first South Korean female leader held an open meeting with 17 chiefs of conglomerates on July 24 last year, and had closed-door meetings, separately one by one, with seven of them until the following day.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and chiefs of LG Group and CJ Group were summoned on Sunday afternoon.

Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo and two heads of Hanwha Group and SK Group were grilled on Saturday over the behind-the-scenes meetings with Park.

Choi Soon-sil, 60, is alleged to have pressured big companies into donating 77.4 billion won ($66.3 million) to two non-profit foundations she actually controls.

Choi, whose friendship with Park dates back to the mid-1970s, has been arrested for abuse of power and attempted fraud.

Samsung made the biggest donation of 20.4 billion won to the Mir and K-Sports foundations, with 12.8 billion won, 11.1 billion won, 7.8 billion won and 2.5 billion won each donated by Hyundai, SK, LG and Hanwha.

The Samsung vice chairman has also been questioned about why Samsung transferred 28 billion euros ($30 billion) last year to a company in Germany co-owned by Choi and her 20-year-old daughter.

Samsung in charge of the Korea Equestrian Federation claims that it was sent to support six horse riders, but the money was spent solely on Choi’s daughter who was previously a member of the national equestrian team.