S. Korea Prosecutors Seek Arrest of Friend of President Park

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
November 2, 2016 Updated: November 2, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea—South Korean prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday over allegations of influence-peddling and other activities that have triggered a huge political scandal that threatens Park’s leadership.

With Park’s approval rating nosediving, some opposition politicians have called for her resignation, though none has taken any concrete action to prepare for her impeachment largely out of worries about public backlash. The latest public surveys put Park’s approval rating at about 10 percent, the lowest since her inauguration in February 2013, and that showed about half of respondents think Park should resign or be impeached by the National Assembly.

Last week Park acknowledged Choi Soon-sil had edited some of her speeches and provided public relations help, despite having no official government position. South Korean media speculate Choi likely had an access to sensitive information and played a much larger role in government affairs.

After two days questioning Choi, a Seoul prosecutors’ office on Wednesday asked the Seoul Central District Court to approve an arrest warrant for her, according to court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan. He said the court will likely determine whether to approve the arrest warrant by Friday morning and that Choi will remain in detention until then.

Prosecutors accused Choi of abuse of authority and attempted fraud when they requested her arrest warrant, Shin said without elaborating.

South Korean media have reported allegations that Choi, 60, pulled government strings from the shadows and pushed businesses to donate millions of dollars to two foundations she controlled to obtain money for her personal use and for Park’s post-retirement activities. Prosecutors on Wednesday summoned former presidential secretary Ahn Jong-beom for questioning on his alleged involvement in extracting $70 million of company donations.

It’s still unclear whether and how much influence Choi had on Park’s state affairs. South Korean media reported some of the documents transferred to Choi included secret military talks with North Korea and that she also got daily official reports and made policy suggestions to Park. One TV station aired footage showing Choi picking up the clothes Park would wear.

Choi has previously said she received some of Park’s speeches in advance but said she didn’t know if she was seeing confidential information.

Choi is a daughter of the late Chae Tae-min, the leader of a religious cult who reportedly served as Park’s mentor after her mother was assassinated in 1974. Park’s dictator father Park Chung-hee was gunned down by his intelligence chief in 1979. While acknowledging her ties to Choi last week, Park said that Choi helped her “when I had difficulties” in the past.

Earlier Wednesday, Park replaced her prime minister and two other top officials in a bid to restore public confidence, but opposition lawmakers quickly criticized and described the reshuffles as an attempt to divert attention from the scandal.

Park has already been criticized for an aloof manner and for relying on only a few longtime confidantes. That she may have outsourced sensitive decisions to someone outside of government, and someone connected with a murky, lurid backstory, has incensed many.