Deeper Investigation Urged into President Park's Acquaintance Scandal
SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korean parties urged investigators to roll out a thorough probe into the latest scandal involving an acquaintance of President Park Geun-hye after the chief executive apologized to the nation on Tuesday.
A day after local broadcaster JTBC revealed that Choi Soon-sil, Park's former assistant, had received dozens of presidential speeches before they were made public, the president apologized to the people "regardless of the reasons involved."
The broadcaster said it found the speeches on a computer that was thrown away by Choi's office in southern Seoul. Among the speeches was Park's so-called Dresden address on reunification delivered in Germany in March 2014.
The woman in question, who is also the daughter of Park's late mentor Choi Tae-min and ex-wife of Park's former secretary Chung Yun-hoi, is suspected of inappropriately exerting her influence in the creation and operation of two nonprofit foundations.
Shortly after Park's address, the Saenuri Party held an emergency meeting to discuss follow-up measures while also expressing its regrets.
"We would like to apologize in regards to the leaked speeches," said Saenuri's spokeswoman Kim Hyun-ah.
Other lawmakers demanded the appointment of an independent counsel to look into the highly charged case.'
The prosecution investigating Choi's scandal is currently analyzing the contents of the computer files it received from the broadcaster.
After the new report on the scandal surfaced, opposition lawmakers wasted no time in attacking the president, calling for a full-scale reshuffle of the Cabinet and presidential secretariat. They, in particular, stressed that the scandal represented a "breach of discipline" detrimental to the national foundation.
"The country has fallen into a situation in which a remark made from Choi could also start a war," Rep. Choo Mi-ae, who heads the main opposition, said.
"Concerning the scandal that brought confusion to state affairs, Park only ended up expressing regret over a personal relationship," Choo said. "We did not ask for personal feelings. We wanted to hear about her plan to restore order."
"The speculation has been confirmed to be true that Choi, a private individual, had looked at state secrets and modified (presidential speeches)," Kim Boo-kyum, a four-term lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party, also argued in a press release.
"Investigators must find Choi, put her under detention and investigate the matter," the lawmaker added.
Choi's whereabouts remain unknown, but she is thought to be abroad, most likely in Germany.
Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the Democratic Party, joined the mounting criticism of the presidential office, demanding all related Cheong Wa Dae officials to step down.
"Now we are in a national emergency situation. It is indeed a crisis," Moon said in a "special statement" on his social media account.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, former leader of the minor opposition People's Party, pressured the president to come forward to explain the truth behind the scandal.
"The president should take all responsibility (for the scandal)," he said in a meeting with citizens.
Ahn went further to highlight that the scandal reinforced the speculation that Park proposed a constitutional revision on Monday to deflect public attention from the snowballing accusations against Choi.'
A local civic group, meanwhile, filed a complaint against Choi and related presidential officials with the prosecution, claiming that the act of handing over presidential documents to a civilian constitutes a criminal offense.
Despite the uproar, legal experts say it may be difficult to press criminal charges against the presidential staff for leaking documents to Choi, given that she received only draft versions of presidential speeches, not the finalized ones.
Past court rulings have said that only original or finalized materials can be regarded as presidential records that are subject to legal protection.
"Media reports point to Choi getting first drafts of presidential speeches," a local judge told Yonhap News Agency, declining to be named. "If that is true, they were not finalized versions, meaning it would not be easy to punish those involved."