South Korea's President Park apologises for leak of official documents to friend involved in corruption scandal

People watch a television screen showing South Korean President Park Geun Hye making a public apology, at a train station in Seoul on Oct 25, 2016.
People watch a television screen showing South Korean President Park Geun Hye making a public apology, at a train station in Seoul on Oct 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye was forced into a public apology on Tuesday (Oct 25) for the leak of official documents to a family associate involved in a growing corruption scandal.

"I deeply apologise to the people," Ms Park said in a televised speech, before bowing deeply to the camera. South Korean prosecutors are currently investigating Ms Park's longtime friend Choi Soon Sil over allegations that she used her relationship with the President to strong-arm conglomerates into multimillion dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.

Ms Park had sought to distance herself from the case, but was brought into focus by a TV report on Monday that Ms Choi had been given advance copies of presidential speeches and may have had a hand in revising some of them.

The report was based on 200 files on Ms Choi's computer - retrieved from her office after she left the country as the influence-peddling scandal broke. Her present whereabouts are unknown.

Describing Ms Choi as someone who helped her during "difficult times", Ms Park admitted that she had sought Ms Choi's opinion on her speeches and unspecified "PR materials" for her election campaign and after she took office in February 2013.

"I have listened to her opinion on certain materials for some time but stopped after I had appointed my presidential aides," Ms Park said.

Ms Choi is the daughter of the late religious figure Choi Tae Min, who was known to be a key mentor of the current President up to his death in 1994.

The investigation into Ms Choi and the suspicion that she exerted undue influence over Ms Park have damaged the President, whose popularity ratings have sunk to record lows.

On Monday, Ms Park had announced a review of the constitutional limit on presidential terms - a headline-grabbing move that opposition lawmakers suggested was aimed at deflecting attention from the Choi probe.