South Korean prosecutors arrest woman at
center of political crisis
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[November 01, 2016]
By Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) - The woman at the center
of a scandal that has plunged the South Korean presidency into crisis
was held for a second day on Tuesday after being detained overnight to
answer allegations of exerting inappropriate influence in state affairs.
Prosecutors have said they are investigating whether Choi Soon-sil used
her friendship with President Park Geun-hye to gain access to classified
documents that enabled her to influence government matters and benefited
personally through non-profit foundations.
The growing scandal has sparked public anger and sent Park's approval
rating to a record low, with thousands of protesters gathered in Seoul
on Saturday night calling for her to step down. Park accepted the
resignations of eight of her top aides over the weekend.
Choi, 60, arrived at the prosecutor's office on Tuesday morning in
handcuffs and a surgical mask and wearing a dark coat, escorted by
correctional officers. A prosecution official and her lawyer said she
had been detained late on Monday.
Although Choi was being questioned at another location, a man used a
heavy construction excavator to smash the front entrance of the Supreme
Prosecutors' Office building in Seoul, injuring a security guard, in an
apparent act of protest against Choi. He was arrested by police.
According to Han Jeung-sub, a senior official at the Seocho Police
Station, the 45-year-old man told police: "Choi Soon-sil said she had
committed a crime she deserves to die for, so I came here to help her
Prosecutors have asked eight banks for documents related to Choi's
financial transactions, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported,
citing unnamed financial industry officials.
Worried that Choi may be a flight risk and could destroy evidence,
prosecutors placed her under emergency detention without a warrant late
on Monday, Yonhap reported. Under local law, a suspect can be held
without a warrant for up to 48 hours.
Prosecutors planned to file a court request for an arrest warrant on
Wednesday, Yonhap and other media said, citing a prosecution official.
Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.
Choi told South Korea's Segye Ilbo newspaper last week that she received
drafts of Park's speeches after Park's election victory but denied she
had access to other official material, or that she influenced state
affairs or benefited financially.
Park said last week she had given Choi access to speech drafts early in
her term and apologized for causing concern among the public.
[to top of second column]
Choi Soon-sil (C), who is involved in a political scandal, reacts as
she is surrounded by media upon her arrival at a prosecutor's office
in Seoul, South Korea, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
BETTER CLASS OF CELL
Choi was being held at the Seoul Detention Center, where the single
cells for high-profile inmates are equipped with floor heating, a
television, a folding mattress and toilet, according to media
Choi had returned to South Korea on Sunday from Germany via London
under intense pressure to answer the allegations against her.
Park, 64, and Choi have known each other for decades, and the
president said in a televised apology last week that her friend had
helped her through difficult times.
Park's father Park Chung-hee led South Korea for 18 years after
seizing power in a military coup in 1961. Park Geun-hye served as
acting first lady after her mother was killed by an assassin trying
to shoot her father, who was himself murdered by his disgruntled spy
chief in 1979.
Park is in the fourth year of a five-year term and the crisis
threatens to complicate policymaking during the lame-duck period
that typically sets in towards the end of South Korea's single-term
The scandal has weighed on the South Korean currency and stocks, as
investors fret about political uncertainty, with the won falling 0.9
percent last week while stocks slipped 0.7 percent.
Choi begged forgiveness when she arrived to meet prosecutors on
(Reporting by Ju-min Park, additional reporting by Christine Kim;
Editing by Tony Munroe and Simon Cameron-Moore)
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