Embattled Park to face questioning by prosecutors

Move against S. Korean leader comes as ruling party admits to collapse in public confidence

Protesters at a massive rally against President Park Geun Hye in Seoul on Saturday night. Public support for the South Korean leader has plummeted to 5 per cent.
Protesters at a massive rally against President Park Geun Hye in Seoul on Saturday night. Public support for the South Korean leader has plummeted to 5 per cent.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • The South Korean prosecutors' office said yesterday that President Park Geun Hye will be questioned as part of a probe over a political scandal engulfing her presidency, but the timing has yet to be decided.

It will be the first time that a sitting president in South Korea will be questioned by prosecutors.

The President will be questioned as a witness, the prosecutors said. A notice was sent to the presidential Blue House yesterday and prosecutors were awaiting a response, they said.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Ms Park exerted improper pressure on chaebol, or conglomerate, bosses to raise funds for two foundations at the centre of an influence-peddling scandal involving a friend of hers, the Yonhap news agency reported yesterday, citing prosecution sources.

The two foundations were reportedly set up by her friend Choi Soon Sil. Prosecutors are also investigating whether Choi used her ties to the President to meddle in state affairs and wield influence in the cultural and sports communities.

They have already questioned the de facto head of Samsung Group, Mr Lee Jae Yong, and the chairmen of Hyundai Motor Group and Hanjin Group over the scandal, media reports said yesterday.

"It's correct we're planning to question the President but the date is undecided," an official at the prosecutors' office said.

Yonhap quoted a prosecution official as saying Ms Park's questioning should be done no later than Wednesday.

Ms Park, in her second televised apology on Nov 4, said she would accept investigation by prosecutors if necessary.

She has said, without elaborating, that she had discussed with conglomerate heads in July last year her desire for them to contribute more to South Korean culture.

On Saturday, up to one million South Koreans, chanting "Park Geun Hye, resign!", took to the streets in central Seoul in the largest anti-government rally since the democratic uprising in 1987.

While the Blue House kept silent yesterday, her ruling Saenuri Party issued another apology. Its floor leader Chung Jin Suk admitted to the "total collapse" in public confidence in the current administration. "The legislature must brace itself for a paralysis of the executive branch and lead efforts to put the nation back on track," he said.

About 80 Saenuri lawmakers yesterday called for the disbanding of the party. They issued a statement declaring that "Saenuri Party (has) already ended its days".

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and the People's Party yesterday threatened to take an "ultimate measure", alluding to a campaign for Ms Park's resignation or even a Parliament-led impeachment.

The opposition bloc's leaders have largely refrained from explicitly demanding the President's voluntary resignation or an impeachment, but the thinking appeared to have changed following the massive turnout for Saturday's anti- Park rally.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline 'Embattled Park to face questioning by prosecutors'. Subscribe