Park Geun Hye can't meet request for questioning: Lawyer

A rally calling for Ms Park's resignation in Seoul last Saturday. Prosecutors had asked to question the South Korean leader face-to-face by today.
A rally calling for Ms Park's resignation in Seoul last Saturday. Prosecutors had asked to question the South Korean leader face-to-face by today.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

S. Korean leader in influence-peddling scandal will face probe by special prosecutor instead, says her lawyer

SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye cannot be questioned by today as prosecutors have requested, her lawyer said, as she resists growing calls to resign over an influence-peddling scandal that has engulfed her administration.

Ms Park is under intense pressure to step down over the crisis involving a close friend accused of meddling in state affairs, with the main opposition party seeking to put an impeachment motion up for a vote as soon as Friday.

Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans rallied for the fifth weekend in a row, calling for the President's resignation. Organisers said the crowd totalled 1.5 million; the police estimated the crowd at 260,000.

Ms Park's lawyer, Mr Yoo Yeong Ha, said in a text message that the President had to deal with the "fast- moving situation" and so there was little time for her to cooperate with prosecutors, who had asked to question her by today.

"It is regrettable that the President cannot cooperate with face- to-face questioning which the prosecutors have asked for by Nov 29," he said in a statement.

Instead of responding to the current investigators' request for questioning, Ms Park, 64, will prepare for an investigation by a special prosecutor that is expected to begin next month, Mr Yoo said previously, although prosecutors subsequently repeated their request to question the President.

Ms Park's approval rating fell to just 4 per cent in a weekly survey released last Friday by Gallup Korea, an all-time low for a democratically elected South Korean president.

Ms Park's friend, Choi Soon Sil, and a former aide have been indicted in the case.

Ms Park was named as an accomplice in an investigation into whether big businesses were inappropriately pressured to contribute money to foundations set up to back the President's initiatives.

Ms Park, whose single five-year term is due to end in February 2018, has apologised twice over the affair, to little effect.

Her approval rating fell to just 4 per cent in a weekly survey released last Friday by Gallup Korea, an all-time low for a democratically elected South Korean president.

In her second public apology earlier this month, she said she would make herself available to any investigation, including that of a special prosecutor, adding that she would take responsibility if found guilty.

But the presidential office and her lawyer later denied the prosecutors' accusations, with Mr Yoo denouncing them as a "house of fantasy". Ms Park, who has immunity from prosecution in the case as long as she remains in office, is alleged by prosecutors to have colluded with Choi to enable her friend to wield improper influence in government affairs and in fund raising by the two foundations.

If Parliament secures the necessary two-thirds vote needed for an impeachment motion, it would be up to the Constitutional Court to confirm or reject the motion.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister would lead the government on an interim basis.

No South Korean president has failed to complete his term since the current democratic system was implemented in 1987.

If Ms Park is impeached or resigns, an election would be held in 60 days to nominate a president to serve a five-year term.

Ms Park's father led South Korea for 18 years after seizing power in a military coup, before he was assassinated by his disgruntled spy chief in 1979.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Park not able to meet prosecutors in probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe