S. Korean prosecutors turn up heat on President

Protesters holding up signs reading "Step down Park Geun Hye!" during a candle-lit rally in central Seoul yesterday.
Protesters holding up signs reading "Step down Park Geun Hye!" during a candle-lit rally in central Seoul yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Investigators raid presidential compound in probe on influence-peddling scandal

SEOUL • South Korean prosecutors raided President Park Geun Hye's presidential compound, widening their investigation into an influence-peddling scandal that is threatening her grip on power.

Investigators searched the offices of two presidential secretaries yesterday and may continue until today, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said. Investigators also visited the homes of seven current and former government employees in the morning.

It is the first time the Blue House has been searched since prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to enter the presidential complex in 2012 under President Lee Myung Bak over a corruption scandal involving his retirement home.

The action came hours after the presidential office said Ms Park told her 10 chief advisers to resign over a scandal that has sent her approval ratings to all-time lows.

She apologised on Tuesday in a nationally televised address and acknowledged she consulted her friend, Ms Choi Soon Sil, on "some documents" for a certain period of time after she took office in 2013.

Her comments fanned suspicions that Ms Choi, the 60-year-old daughter of a shadowy religious leader, may have meddled in state affairs extensively through her relationship with the President.

Invoking a lurid back-story of religious cults, shamanist rituals and corruption, reports have portrayed Ms Choi as a Rasputin-like figure whose influence over Ms Park extended to vetting her presidential speeches and advising on key appointments and policy issues.

Cable TV JTBC reported a day earlier that Ms Choi edited some of Ms Park's speeches, including one made in Germany in 2014 to outline steps towards the eventual unification of the Korean peninsula.

Thousands took to the streets of central Seoul in a candle-lit rally yesterday, denouncing Ms Choi as a dangerous charlatan and calling on President Park to step down.

The offices raided yesterday included those of Mr An Chong Bum, Ms Park's chief adviser on policy coordination. Opposition lawmakers accuse him of pressuring a business lobby group into donating tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Ms Choi. Mr An denied the allegations at a parliamentary hearing.

Ms Park's decision to dismiss her top aides came after she had a private meeting with the chief of her ruling party on Friday. South Korea's three biggest political parties will meet tomorrow to discuss the scandal, according to Yonhap News. The two opposition parties said yesterday the resignations of chief advisers aren't enough and that Ms Park should also replace the Cabinet.

"Ideally, she could appoint a politically neutral prime minister and let him choose Cabinet members while she keeps her grip on security and foreign affairs only," said Professor Choi Chang Ryul, a political commentator and professor of liberal arts at Yong In University.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'S. Korean prosecutors turn up heat on President'. Print Edition | Subscribe