Prosecutors Raid Presidential Aides Homes in Choi Soon-sil Scandal Probe

Prosecutors Raid Presidential Aides Homes in Choi Soon-sil Scandal Probe

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korean prosecutors on Saturday raided the homes of presidential aides amid a growing public uproar over allegations of influence peddling and interference in state affairs by a confidante of President Park Geun-hye.

Investigators said while they tried to check the offices of the aides at Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office, they were refused entry due to security reasons.

In the searches where they had access, prosecutors confiscated computers, documents, and mobile devices from the homes and offices of former and current presidential secretaries and aides as part of the investigation into potential irregularities involving Choi Soon-sil, who had known the president for four decades.

The raids targeted senior presidential secretary for policy coordination Ahn Jong-beom, private presidential secretary Jeong Ho-seong, deputy culture minister Kim Jong, Park's former speech writer Cho In-geun and administrator Kim Han-soo, according to the prosecutors' office.

The search comes as Park has taken fire for allowing Choi, a private citizen with no government job, to edit important presidential speeches. Choi may have used this connection to exert influence on state affairs.'

In regards to raids on the offices of Ahn, Jeong and Kim at Cheong Wa Dae, a senior prosecutor said earlier in the day that the raids were carried out in cooperation with officials at the presidential office.

"We cannot provide details about the raids. The confiscations will continue tomorrow as there remain things that have yet to be collected for an investigation," he told reporters.

During the search on the presidential office, investigators did not directly search the building. Instead, they requested the necessary documents, and Cheong Wa Dae provided them.

By Saturday evening, prosecutors announced Cheong Wa Dae, while providing documents, did not hand over pertinent information needed for the probe.

"With that, our efforts to raid (Cheong Wa Dae) have been hampered," a prosecutor said. "We consider this an unacceptable step, and we'll try our best to get the information needed."

Under the law guiding searches, government offices cannot reject lawful probes, although in the case of Cheong Wa Dae, it reserves the right to block entry of actual office space because of the need to protect classified information from being checked by people without top security clearance. Searches of government offices can be blocked if it is determined to harm national interests, sources said.

On Friday, Park told 10 senior advisers to tender their resignations ahead of a shakeup of her presidential office.

Lee Won-jong, Park's chief of staff, already submitted his resignation Wednesday, a day after the president apologized over an alleged leak of presidential speeches and documents to Choi.

Choi, 60, is suspected of having used her ties to the president to meddle in state affairs, including some related to sensitive policy issues.

The scandal, involving what critics call the "shadow president," has sent Park's approval ratings dipping to record lows since her inauguration in February 2013. It has also triggered calls for a sweeping personnel shakeup and prompted calls by the president's harshest critics for her impeachment. The impeachment demand has not gained traction among the major political parties.

Faced with calls by some for the president to step down over the scandal, Cheong Wa Dae is widely expected to replace some of her closest aides in a reshuffle early next week.

Choi, meanwhile, who is known to be in Germany selected an attorney to represent her and vowed to cooperate fully with the probe. She earlier said that while she helped the president write parts of speeches, other allegations being raised against her are not true.

Choi then claimed if she is found guilty of illegal activity, she would accept the verdict of the law.

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