Prosecutors Determined to Question President Park this Week on Corruption Scandal
SEOUL, Nov. 13 (Yonhap) -- Prosecutors said Sunday they are determined to conduct a face-to-face questioning of President Park Geun-hye early this week to investigate her role in the widening corruption scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.
An official of the special prosecution team investigating the corruption and influence-peddling scandal surrounding Choi said that the team has delivered its determination to complete direct questioning of the president by Wednesday and was waiting for a reply from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
"The face-to-face questioning of President Park should be conducted by this Tuesday or Wednesday (Nov. 16) at the latest. We're waiting for a faithful answer (from Cheong Wa Dae)," said the official.'
"The basic principle is a direct questioning (of the president)," the official said, noting the location will be determined through consultations.
He noted that the summons and questioning of conglomerate chairmen, who met Park in July last year before donating huge sums to two foundations controlled by Choi, over this weekend has come prior to the questioning of the president.
The unprecedented questioning, if realized, will mark the first time in national history for an incumbent president to be questioned by prosecutors.
Prosecutors have said they have to wrap up an investigation into Park before Nov. 20 when the legal period of Choi's detention expires. Choi was formally put under arrest on Nov. 3 on charges of fraud and abuse of power.
As for the place of questioning, a prosecution source said earlier that the most likely option is a third location, instead of the prosecutors' office or the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, though the presidential office has not been ruled out yet.
The source made clear that sending a questionnaire to the president instead of in-person questioning may not be under consideration.
Park already agreed to be questioned by prosecutors in a news conference on Nov. 4.
In the scandal, Choi allegedly leveraged her four decades-long relationship with Park to coerce local businesses, including Lotte Group and SK Group, into donating large sums to two dubious nonprofit foundations that she was suspected of using for personal gain. Even Samsung Electronics Co. is under investigation for its involvement in the scandal.'
Despite two public apologies by the president since the scandal erupted last month, her approval rating plunged to a record-low 5 percent, according to local pollster Gallup Korea.
In the apologies, Park acknowledged that she allowed her guard to drop as Choi stood by her side during difficult times. She said the fallout from the scandal was "all my fault."
South Korea's Constitution does not allow a sitting president to be prosecuted, but some senior officials have suggested that questioning, as part of a broader investigation, is permissible.
On Sunday morning, Presidential Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok and other senior presidential secretaries met to discuss how to cope with the unprecedented protest rally where organizers say more than 1 million people gathered to demand Park's resignation, the officials said.
"Cheong Wa Dae takes the public anger expressed in the rally last night very seriously. It is gathering wisdom to come up with the correct countermeasures to resolve the current political chaos," an official said.
Park observed the rally from her official residence in Cheong Wa Dae, he said without elaborating.