Prosecutors Seek Arrest Warrant for President Park's Confidante Choi Soon-sil

Prosecutors Seek Arrest Warrant for President Park's Confidante Choi Soon-sil

SEOUL, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- State prosecutors on Wednesday asked a local court to issue a warrant to formally arrest Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of President Park Geun-hye who is at the center of a political scandal rocking the country, on charges of abuse of authority and attempted fraud.

Earlier on Monday, prosecutors put Choi into emergency detention, after hours of questioning her about the allegations raised against her, saying she might be a flight risk or try to destroy evidence. She had returned to South Korea over the weekend after nearly two months in Europe.

Prosecutors said the 60-year-old, who has never held a government position, is suspected of collaborating with An Chong-bum, former presidential secretary for policy coordination, to pressure local companies into donating some tens of billions of won to two nonprofit foundations, Mir and K-Sports. There have been allegations that the money was then unlawfully funneled to Choi.

Prosecutors also put An under emergency detention Wednesday night, saying he's denying the charges against him and has pressured other key witnesses to give false statements. Unless put into custody, An is also feared to destroy evidence, they said.

Prosecutors have 48 hours to request a warrant to formally arrest him.

An is one of Park's top secretaries who resigned on Sunday following the scandal. He appeared before the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office for questioning earlier Wednesday.

Though Choi is not a government official, she can be punished for abuse of authority if it is proven that she collaborated with the former presidential secretary, a senior prosecutor said.

Still, the prosecutor declined to comment on whether President Park can be subjected to investigation, saying they are "not yet at the stage to talk about it." 

A presidential official said that Park will make a decision over whether to respond to the ongoing probe when a direct inquiry into her becomes "necessary." But he said it is difficult to say what course of action Park will take at this point in time.

The official's remarks represent a subtle change from the presidential office's initial stance against any direct probe involving the chief executive.

Choi is also accused of attempting to receive some 700 million won (US$608,800) from the K-Sports Foundation in return for two projects pursued by Blue K, a company she controls.

"The firm barely had the ability to write proposals for the research projects," the senior prosecutor said.

Choi is known to have denied most of the allegations raised against her.

The Seoul Central District Court will hold a hearing Thursday to decide whether to issue the warrant.'

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors raided the home and offices of Song Sung-gak, former head of the Korea Creative Content Agency, who is suspected of pressuring a mid-sized ad company to hand over its shares to a third party in collaboration with Cha Eun-taek, one of Choi's closest associates.

Public outrage over the scandal has been escalating, with Park's approval rating dropping to single digits.

Faced with growing calls from the public to take responsibility, Park carried out a partial reshuffle of her secretariat Sunday, followed by another one on Wednesday, which included the nomination of Kim Byong-joon as the new prime minister. The president will soon fill other vacancies according to presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk.

Park, however, has not issued an official statement regarding the scandal since she apologized in a nationally televised address last week for handing over drafts of presidential speeches to Choi and letting her edit them.

Choi is the daughter of Park's late mentor, Choi Tae-min, the 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, then-first lady Yook Young-soo, was assassinated in 1974.'

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