S Korea’s Park ‘colluded with aide’ in graft scandal

S Korea’s Park ‘colluded with aide’ in graft scandal

SEOUL – Agence France-Presse
S Korea’s Park ‘colluded with aide’ in graft scandal

AP photo

South Korean prosecutors said on Nov. 20 that President Park Geun-Hye colluded with her close confidante in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal that has sparked massive nationwide protests and calls for her impeachment.

Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-Sil was charged on Nov. 20 with coercion and abuse of power, as was one of the president’s former aides.

Another presidential aide was charged with leaking confidential state documents.

“The president played a collusive role in a considerable portion of the criminal activities involving the [three] people,” said Lee Young-Ryeol, a Seoul prosecutor who is leading a probe into the scandal.

Choi, 60, has been accused of using her personal ties to Park to meddle in state affairs and of coercing local firms to “donate” more than $60 million to dubious non-profit foundations. She allegedly then used some of the funds for personal gain.

Park faces allegations that she helped Choi extract money from the firms and that she ordered her aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance.

Under the constitution a sitting president cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason. But she can still be probed by prosecutors and possibly charged after leaving office.

Lee acknowledged that prosecutors could not formally charge Park at present but vowed to continue to investigate her.

Prosecutors had previously described the conservative leader as a witness to Choi’s crimes but changed her status to that of a criminal suspect, said a senior prosecutor at the investigative team.

“From now on, she will be probed as a suspect... for violation of Section 30 of the criminal code on collusion,” Roh Seung-Kwon told reporters.

Park’s spokesman Jung Youn-Kuk angrily rejected the prosecutors’ accusations, describing them as “unfair political attacks” based on “imagination and guesswork.”

Park had earlier promised to answer prosecutors’ questions “sincerely,” a move which would make her the first South Korean president to be quizzed by prosecutors while in office.

But her lawyer Yoo Young-Ha said Sunday Park would not meet prosecutors and would only deal with an independent team of investigators which will soon take over the probe.