Impeached president questioned over scandalSave
By Anna Fifield
The impeached South Korean President, Park Geun Hye, was questioned by prosecutors for the first time today over her involvement in the corruption scandal that led to her being dismissed from office earlier this month.
Park, who has lost her immunity from prosecution and could face criminal charges including abusing her power and coercing donations, arrived at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office for a full day of questioning.
"I am sorry to the people. I will sincerely undergo an investigation," Park said when she went in. She did not elaborate.
It was not clear if her remarks meant she acknowledged the corruption allegations, as she has repeatedly denied any legal wrongdoing.
South Korean politicians embroiled in scandals often offer public apologies for causing trouble though they deny their involvement. Park has remained defiant even after being impeached.
Prosecutors have reportedly prepared more than 200 questions for Park. Security has been tightened significantly.
The conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest newspaper, urged prosecutors to deal with the matter quickly and Park to answer all questions honestly. "The majority of Koreans have grown weary of the histrionics. The sooner this sordid drama comes to an end, the better," the paper wrote in an editorial.
South Korea's first woman president, Park also became its first to be impeached after the Constitutional Court this month unanimously concluded that she had "continuously" breached the law during her four years in office.
The court concluded that the President had helped her friend Choi Soon Sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates and had personally asked big business for donations. She had leaked confidential documents to Choi, tried to cover up her wrongdoing, then lied about it.
The justices also chastised Park for refusing to speak to special prosecutors investigating the case and for declining to appear before the Constitutional Court to answer questions about the case.
In a damning 101-page report delivered before the impeachment decision, special prosecutors identified 13 charges that could be laid against Park, including abuse of power, receiving bribes and leaking confidential government information.
The case revolves around Park's relationship with Choi, a life-long friend who held no official position and had no security clearance but wielded enormous influence over her.
The prosecutors found that Park and Choi had 573 phone calls in a six-month period - between April and October 2016, when the scandal broke - on cellphones registered under other people's names. Park's former chief of staff has said he often went several weeks without talking to or see the former President.
Choi is accused of extracting US$70 million in bribes from big business - including planning to extract US$37 million from Samsung alone - in return for granting favourable treatment to the corporate giants. Prosecutors say they have evidence that Park colluded with Choi in the scheme.
The special prosecutors have indicted 30 people in connection with the scandal, including business chiefs, presidential aides and prosecutors. Lee Jae Yong, the de facto leader of Samsung, has been detained and is now on trial on charges including bribery, embezzlement and perjury.
Both he and Choi have strongly denied wrongdoing, as has the former President.
After she returned to her private home in southern Seoul following her impeachment, Park's spokesman read a statement from the former President, saying: "Though it may take time, I believe the truth will eventually prevail".
- additional reporting AP