SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye was forced into a public apology 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 yesterday, before bowing deeply to the camera.
South Korean prosecutors are investigating Ms Park's longtime friend Choi Soon Sil over allegations that she used her relationship with the President to strong-arm conglomerates into making multimillion-dollar donations to two non-profit foundations she controls.
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 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 a key mentor of the current President up to his death in 1994. She was seen in photographs with Ms Park from 1979 when the President, as the eldest daughter of then-President Park Chung Hee, was filling in for her mother who had been killed five years earlier by an assassin who had intended to kill her father. Ms Park's father, who took power in a military coup in 1961, was shot dead by his disgruntled spy chief later in 1979.
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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS