Friday 19 January 2018

Prosecutors seek arrest of friend of South Korea president

South Korean prosecutors have applied for an arrest warrant for Choi Soon-sil, who is at the centre of a political scandal (AP)
South Korean prosecutors have applied for an arrest warrant for Choi Soon-sil, who is at the centre of a political scandal (AP)

South Korean prosecutors have requested an arrest warrant for a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye over allegations of influence-peddling and other activities which have triggered a huge political scandal that threatens Ms Park's leadership.

With Ms Park's approval rating nosediving, some opposition politicians have called for her resignation, though none has taken any concrete action to prepare for her impeachment, largely out of worries about a public backlash.

The latest public surveys put Ms Park's approval rating at about 10%, the lowest since her inauguration in February 2013, and showed that about half of respondents think she should resign or be impeached by the National Assembly.

Last week Ms Park acknowledged that Choi Soon-sil had edited some of her speeches and provided public relations help, despite having no official government position. South Korean media speculate that Ms Choi probably had access to sensitive information and played a much larger role in government affairs.

After two days questioning Ms Choi, a Seoul prosecutors' office asked the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday to approve an arrest warrant for her, according to court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan. He said the court is likely to decide whether to approve the arrest warrant by Friday morning.

Prosecutors accused Ms Choi of abuse of authority and attempted fraud when they requested her arrest warrant, Mr Shin said without giving details.

South Korean media have reported allegations that Ms Choi, 60, pulled government strings from the shadows and pushed businesses to donate millions of dollars to two foundations she controlled to obtain money for her personal use and for Ms Park's post-retirement activities.

It is still not clear whether and how much influence Ms Choi has had on Ms Park's state affairs. South Korean media reported some of the documents transferred to Ms Choi included confidential information like secret military talks with North Korea. One TV station aired footage showing Ms Choi picking up the clothes Ms Park would wear.

Ms Choi has previously said she received some of Ms Park's speeches in advance but said she did not know if she was seeing confidential information.

Earlier in the day, Ms Park replaced her prime minister and two other top officials in a bid to restore public confidence amid the scandal that has already forced her to fire eight presidential aides.

South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party immediately criticised Ms Park's reshuffles, saying it is an attempt to divert attention from the scandal. It said the president must reveal the whole truth about her ties with Ms Choi and the scandal.

South Korea's executive power is concentrated in the president, but the prime minister, the No 2 government post, leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.

Ms Choi has been close to Ms Park since Ms Choi's father, the leader of a religious cult, gained Ms Park's trust by reportedly convincing her that he could communicate with her assassinated mother. Ms Choi's father denied that in a 1990 media interview.

Ms Park has long been criticised for her aloof manner and for relying on only a few longtime confidantes. That she may also have been outsourcing sensitive decisions to someone outside government, and someone connected with a murky, lurid backstory, has incensed many.


Press Association

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