Need to Catch Up on Last Week's Developments in President Park's Impeachment Investigation?
SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's special prosecutors intensified their investigation Thursday into a barrage of corruption allegations linked to President Park Geun-hye and her associates.
The independent counsel team requested an arrest warrant for former health minister Moon Hyung-pyo after he admitted to pressuring the state-run pension fund to back a merger of two Samsung Group companies last year.
They also grilled Ambassador to France Mo Chul-min, a former Park aide, about reports that the presidential office blacklisted nearly 10,000 cultural figures, and a senior executive at Samsung's ad unit over the group's dubious funding of a sports agency linked to Park's friend Choi Soon-sil who stands at the center of the scandal.
Choi was formally arrested last month for meddling in public affairs and amassing profits using her ties to the president.
Former minister Moon, now the chief of the National Pension Service (NPS), who had denied exerting influence in the pension fund's controversial decision at a parliamentary hearing, reversed his statement during an interrogation by the independent counsel team, according to the probe team's spokesman Lee Kyu-chul.
His confession is expected to provide a crucial impetus to its inquiry into whether the controversial approval was done in return for Samsung's financial favors to Park's longtime friend Choi and whether the president was directly involved in the process, which the prosecutors consider as constituting a kind of bribery.
Independent counsel Park Young-soo indicated his determination to get to the bottom of the bribery allegations revolving around the president, Choi and Samsung by choosing the NPS as the first target for a raid on Dec. 21, when his team launched its full-fledged investigation.
Moon may also be the first suspect to be arrested by the team if a court issues the warrant after a hearing set for Friday afternoon.
He was put into emergency detention early Wednesday during questioning which started on the previous day. He faces charges of abuse of power and perjury.'
The prosecutors are looking into suspicions that the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae pressured the state fund -- which held an 11.6 percent stake in Samsung C&T Corp. and a 5 percent stake in Cheil Industries Inc. -- to support the conglomerate in July last year in return for favors Samsung gave to Park friend Choi Soon-sil.
Moon served as health and welfare minister, which oversees the pension fund, from December 2013 to August 2015.
Critics say the merger was designed to cement Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong's control of the group at the expense of other shareholders.
The backing of NPS drew criticism, as its decision was not reviewed by an independent panel, which generally advises the state fund in exercising voting rights for invested firms.
Later, Samsung allegedly struck a deal worth some tens of billions of won with Choi's company in Germany.
State prosecutors have named President Park as an accomplice in her friend coercing local conglomerates into donating some tens of billions of won to two nonprofit foundations controlled by Choi. But they did not file charges over the case related to the Samsung merger and handed over the result of their investigation to the special probe team.'
Investigation into suspicions that President Park received undue medical treatment is also underway.
On Wednesday, investigators raided the offices of doctors who are suspected of violating medical law by giving prescriptions or treatment to Park without keeping official records. There have been suspicions the doctors were given business favors in return.
The seizure and search indicated that the investigators are digging into the president's alleged inaction during a ferry disaster in 2014.
Her office has yet to clarify what exactly she was doing during the first seven hours of the Sewol sinking, which killed more than 300 people, failing to quell rumors that she might have received cosmetic treatments during the critical hours.
Investigators are now considering when and how to raid the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
State prosecutors had attempted a shakedown a couple of times, but were denied entry into the offices of key presidential aides involved in the affair for to security reasons. Instead, Cheong Wa Dae submitted some of the documents demanded.
Though the independent counsel team said it is still reviewing whether to actually carry out the search and seizure, its spokesman earlier said they needed to visit the presidential complex to secure evidence.
President Park, who has refuted all charges raised against her, is now awaiting the Constitutional Court's decision on parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach her.'