South Korean prosecutors are denied Park
scandal probe extension
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[February 27, 2017]
By Se Young Lee and Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean special
prosecutors investigating impeached President Park Geun-hye were denied
permission to extend their probe and question her in person on Monday
amid a graft scandal that threatens to topple her from office.
The special prosecutor's office will make its final indictments before
its investigation into the scandal, which has engulfed the highest
levels of politics and business in South Korea, closes on Tuesday,
spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters.
A Constitutional Court ruling on whether to uphold the impeachment,
which would result in South Korea's first democratically elected leader
being thrown from office, is expected next month.
The office of Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting as president since
Park was impeached by parliament in December, said Hwang had rejected a
request by prosecutors for a 30-day extension of their investigation.
"The special prosecutor's office regrets that the in-person questioning
of the president could not happen and is deeply disappointed by the
outcome," Lee said.
The sticking point had been over the presidential office's refusal to
allow audio or video recordings of the questioning, resulting in a
breakdown in negotiations last week, Lee said. Prosecutors had sought to
question Park as a suspect, he said.
The corruption scandal erupted last year over accusations that Park
colluded with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses to
donate to two foundations set up to back the presidentís policy
The scandal has led to weekly protests by tens of thousands of Koreans,
not only those who want Park gone but also some who want to see her stay
in power and blame North Korean agents for the political instability.
Park, 65, was stripped of her powers after parliament's impeachment. She
cannot be prosecuted while she remains president.
The scandal has also engulfed Samsung Group [SAGR.UL}, South Korea's
largest chaebol, or conglomerate. Jay Y. Lee, the head of the
smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals conglomerate, was arrested on Feb. 17
on suspicion that he had pledged bribes to a company and foundations
backed by Choi to curry favor.
Park reiterated in a statement to the Constitutional Court read by her
lawyer on Monday that she did not act in self-interest while in office.
She also denied making improper demands or receiving illicit requests
[to top of second column]
South Korean acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn
speaks during the New Year's press conference at the government
complex in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ahn
Choi, Lee and Samsung also deny wrongdoing.
Prosecutors could issue up to another 15 indictments on Tuesday,
including of Lee and other Samsung Group executives. Their findings
were expected to be disclosed by Friday at the latest.
Hwang's office said the special prosecution investigation had served
its purpose and it was in the country's best interests for it to
conclude as scheduled on Tuesday.
"After much deliberation, the acting president has decided that it
would be best for the country's stability to not extend the special
investigation and for the prosecutors to take over," said Hong
Kwon-heui, a spokesman for Hwang.
Hwang, who was appointed prime minister by Park in 2015, is seen as
a potential candidate if Park's impeachment is upheld, which would
trigger an election.
However, soon after announcing there would be no extension of the
investigation, Hwang found himself dragged into the scandal when the
two main opposition parties said they would seek his impeachment
The special prosecution team has already indicted former Park aide
Kim Ki-choon and former culture minister Cho Yoon-sun.
Should the Constitutional Court uphold parliament's impeachment of
Park, South Korea would hold an election within 60 days.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee, Ju-min Park, Christine Kim and Joyce
Lee; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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