Former President Park Appears for Court, Delivers Quick Apology before Entering

Former President Park Appears for Court, Delivers Quick Apology before Entering

SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- Former President Park Geun-hye apologized to the public over an influence-peddling scandal as she arrived at the prosecutors' office on Tuesday to be questioned over a string of corruption allegations that removed her from office earlier this month.

   Park appeared at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul at around 9:30 a.m. as a suspect over allegations of bribery, abuse of power, coercion and leak of government secrets.

   "I feel sorry to the public," she said as she arrived at the prosecution. "I will faithfully go through the interrogation." 

   The questioning, which could continue past midnight, will take place in the presence of one or two of her lawyers.

   Park, the country's first democratically elected leader to be ousted, is suspected of colluding with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil in extorting money from local conglomerates.

   Prosecutors are expected to grill Park over multiple charges, including that local business groups donated huge sums of money to two foundations allegedly controlled by Choi in return for business favors.

   Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of Samsung Group, was arrested and indicted over suspicions of giving bribes to Choi, and in effect to Park. He has been flatly denying the charges.

   Park has so far effectively rejected undergoing a direct investigation, but the Constitutional Court's decision to oust her earlier this month stripped her of the immunity that had protected her from criminal prosecution.

   A number of former aides have been questioned and put on trials over their alleged involvement in the scandal in the meanwhile.

   Park is the country's fourth former president to undergo questioning over criminal allegations, following Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan and the late Roh Moo-hyun.

   Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide in 2009 amid an investigation into allegations that his family members accepted illicit funds. 

After a monthslong investigation, the independent counsel team indicted Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of Samsung Group, on charges of bribing Choi, and in effect Park, in return for business favors.

   Special investigators viewed the 20.4 billion won the business group donated to the two foundations, as well as its other business transactions with Choi's company, as kickbacks.

   The state prosecutors are now expanding their probe into other conglomerates.

   SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won was grilled by prosecutors on Saturday over suspicions the conglomerate donated a total of 11.1 billion won to the foundations in return for a presidential pardon for him. Chey was then serving a prison term for embezzlement and other charges.

   A senior prosecution official earlier said they will decide whether such collection of money can be deemed as coercion or bribery after getting the facts straight based on Park's questioning.'

The former president has also been named an accomplice in blacklisting cultural figures deemed critical of her administration to deny them state support.

   Former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun and Park's ex-chief of staff Kim Ki-choon are standing trial for allegedly orchestrating the creation and management of the list, which is known to have over 9,000 people's name on it.

   Another former presidential aide Jeong Ho-seong was indicted on charges of leaking government documents, including confidential information, to Choi under the direction of Park. There have been allegations Choi, who held no official government post nor has any policy experience, peddled influence in key state affairs using her ties to the former president.

   Prosecutors also accuse Park of abusing her authority to fire government officials who were not supportive of such alleged irregularities carried out in the past years and peddling influence to give business favors to those close to Choi.

   Park has flatly denied all suspicions against her Park and has so far rejected a direct investigation, as the Constitution stipulates that an incumbent president has immunity from prosecution. The Constitutional Court stripped her of that privilege on March 10.'

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