Prosecutors expand special investigation into Park’s confidante scandal

November 4, 2016

SEOUL, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) — A special prosecutors’ team looking into the scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye’s confidante said Friday it will sharply increase the number of investigators as allegations continue to snowball into different sectors.

The move came after a local court gave a nod to formally arrest Choi Soon-sil, who has maintained close ties to Park for 40 years, over alleged abuse of authority and other irregularities. The 60-year-old has been in custody since late Monday.

With Choi under detention, the prosecutors’ office said they will roll out a thorough investigation on the allegations to reveal the truth and mobilize all available resources. Following the decision to expand the probe, 31 prosecutors will work for the special investigation team, up from the current 22.

The allegations surrounding Choi, who accessed and edited presidential speeches and documents and may have benefited financially from her connection to the chief executive, continued to expand.

Experts said the increase of the investigation team also came amid the rising calls that Park should also cooperate with the probe and respond to questions if the need arises.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, arrested Jeong Ho-seong, a former secretary in charge of the president’s private affairs, late Thursday night for allegedly leaking confidential presidential documents that included diplomatic and security issues to Choi. Investigators said they found traces of Jeong’s involvement on a tablet PC presumed to have been used by Choi.

Sources said investigators have concluded the abandoned tablet PC initially presumed to have been Choi’s does in fact belong to her. The scandal surfaced after a local broadcaster broke the story last month after it retrieved data from the device.

Choi, however, has been claiming the device does not belong to her and that she does not know how to use tablets. Investigators found selfies of Choi along with photos of other relatives, which they say points to ownership.

Lee Kyung-jae, Choi’s lawyer, said he accepted the court’s decision in regards to the arrest, but made clear this move does not necessarily mean that his client is admitting to the charges leveled against her.

On Friday, prosecutors also requested an arrest warrant for An Chong-bum, former presidential secretary for policy coordination, on charges of forcing local conglomerates to chip in on donations for the establishment of two nonprofit foundations, Mir and K-Sports. Choi is suspected of having tried to secure funds from the two foundations through a paper company she created.

Cha Eun-taek, one of Choi’s closest associates in the cultural sector, is also set to undergo questioning after returning home from China next week.

President Park Geun-hye, meanwhile, is expected to be questioned only as a witness and instead of appearing at the prosecutors’ office, she is likely to meet investigators at the presidential office or a third location.

Under South Korea’s Constitution, presidents cannot be criminally accused unless they are implicated in rebellion or try to sell the country out to foreign forces.

“Nothing is decided yet on (when to start) questioning the president, as our priority is currently on fact-finding,” an official from the prosecutors’ office said.

Park already said she will accept being questioned about the scandal “if necessary” during her televised speech.

Self-taken photos of Choi Soon-sil, a close confidante of President Park Geun-hye, found on the tablet PC obtained by a local broadcaster from Choi's old office.

Self-taken photos of Choi Soon-sil, a close confidante of President Park Geun-hye, found on the tablet PC obtained by a local broadcaster from Choi’s old office.

One Comment

  1. Kris

    November 7, 2016 at 6:07 AM

    And Korea wants the US to elect our our own President Park by voting Clinton. Sad.