Choi Soon-sil Officially Arrested in Investigation into Profiteering from President

Choi Soon-sil Officially Arrested in Investigation into Profiteering from President

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- A local court on Thursday night issued a warrant to formally arrest a confidante of President Park Geun-hye over alleged abuse of authority and other irregularities in a scandal that has threatened the incumbent administration.

The Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant after checking charges raised against Choi Soon-sil. It concluded that it is necessary to arrest her to carry out a thorough investigation. The arrest is likely to help expand the ongoing investigation to people around Choi who are also suspected to having meddled in government affairs for personal profit.

The 60-year-old has been put under custody since late Monday, after hours of questioning by prosecutors over a string of allegations.

Prosecutors suspect that Choi collaborated with An Chong-bum, former presidential secretary for policy coordination, to pressure local companies to donate some tens of billions of won to two nonprofit foundations, Mir and K-Sports.

An is one of Park's top secretaries who resigned on Sunday following the scandal.

Prosecutors also put him under emergency detention following questioning Wednesday night, saying he has denied major suspicions raised against him. He further pressured other key witnesses into giving false statements, according to prosecutors. They will decide whether to seek a warrant to formally arrest him by the end of Friday.

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

Choi is also accused of attempting to pocket some 700 million won (US$609,000) from the K-Sports Foundation in return for two research projects pursued by the Blue K, a company she controls.

Prosecutors said the firm barely had the ability to write proposals for the projects.

Regarding other allegations, including that Choi got access to presidential documents and even interfered in the state decision-making processes, investigators said they are still looking into the matter.

The arrest came a day after Park appointed her new chief of staff and a senior political adviser in a follow-up reshuffle of her top secretaries aimed at allaying public criticism over the growing corruption scandal.

Park picked Han Gwang-ok, chairman of the Presidential Committee for National Cohesion, as her new chief of staff, while appointing Hur Won-je, a former journalist-turned-politician, as her senior secretary for political affairs.

Earlier on Wednesday, Park tapped Kim Byong-joon, a former policy adviser to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, as new prime minister, a move slammed by opposition parties as a "unilateral" nomination.

The latest scandal has sent Park's approval rating plunging to a woeful single digit and prompted nationwide calls for her resignation.

Still, Park has not issued an official statement regarding the scandal after 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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