Choi Soon-sil Returns to Korea but Requests a Day to Rest

Choi Soon-sil Returns to Korea but Requests a Day to Rest

SEOUL, Oct. 30 (Yonhap) -- Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of President Park Geun-hye, suspected of peddling influence and interfering in state affairs, returned home Sunday after nearly two months of hiding in Europe, prosecutors said.

"Choi Soon-sil voluntarily returned to South Korea at 7:30 a.m. through a British airline from Heathrow Airport in Britain," a senior prosecutor said.'

Following her arrival, Choi's legal representative Lee Kyung-jae met with reporters in Seoul and said she returned home to undergo questioning by state prosecutors, adding she will fully cooperate with the investigation.

Choi, who was originally known to be in Germany, left from London in order to avoid the media, according to the lawyer.

Her daughter Chung Yoo-ra did not return with Choi, according to Lee. Chung is suspected of receiving unlawful favors in regards to her admission and academic affairs at Ewha Womans University, one of the most prestigious schools in the country.

The lawyer said he has asked the investigators to delay Choi's summons for about a day to give her a rest as she is not in good condition due to poor health and the long journey. Prosecutors said they will not call in Choi on Sunday.

"She conveyed deepest apologies for causing frustration and despondency to the public through her (actions)," Lee said.

Still, the attorney declined to comment on the allegations raised against her.

The woman, who holds no governmental post, is suspected of meddling in state affairs by using her decades of friendship with the president, as well as siphoning off funds from two nonprofit organizations where local companies were allegedly pressured to donate some tens of billions of won.

The return came a day after prosecutors raided homes of presidential aides suspected of being involved in the process, as the investigators accelerated their probe into the case.

They also attempted to raid the offices of the aides, but the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae refused them entry, citing the need to protect state secrets.'

Under the law guiding searches, Cheong Wa Dae, which holds top military secrets, reserves the right to block entry of investigators to protect classified information from being accessed by people without top security clearance.

   Prosecutors said they attempted to raid the offices a second time Sunday morning but were again denied entry.

Instead of allowing the investigators to directly search the offices, the presidential office is known to be providing documents demanded by the prosecution, which it did on Saturday as well.

Prosecutors, however, earlier said the documents provided on the first raid attempt fell short of their requirements and were rather "insignificant materials."

While defying the raid, a number of staff members at the presidential office said the allegations surrounding Choi should be clearly sorted out. Cheong Wa Dae did not issue an official statement on Choi's return.

On Tuesday, the president apologized in a nationally televised address over allegations raised against her and the confidante, admitting to the leak of dozens of presidential speeches to Choi before they were made public.

Choi is a daughter of Park's late mentor Choi Tae-min, a leader of a questionable religious group who died in 1994. Park is known to have developed a friendship with the Choi family after her mother and then-first lady Yook Young-soo was assassinated in 1974.

The latest scandal has sent Park's approval rating to 17 percent, the lowest point since her inauguration in February 2013, according to local pollster Gallup Korea.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets in downtown Seoul, demanding her resignation.

Faced with growing calls from the public to take responsibility for the scandal, Park is widely expected to replace some of her closest aides in a reshuffle early next week.'

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