November 17, 2016 09:36
Prosecutors issued a virtual ultimatum for President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday by insisting that she must submit to questioning in a snowballing corruption scandal no later than Friday.
Park's lawyers and Cheong Wa Dae officials spent the week so far frantically trying to stall, demanding more time or for the president to be questioned only in writing.
But a prosecution official said, "The president stands at the center of suspicions involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil and is facing all kinds of criticism and blame. We must question her face-to-face and not in writing."
Park's lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha on Wednesday requested a written questionnaire and said he needs "considerable time to review the case and make the necessary preparations."
Prosecutors also hinted that they could stop treating Park as just a witness if she continues to resist questioning before Choi and longtime presidential aide An Chong-bum are indicted on Saturday or Sunday.
So far Park is being treated as a witness in the influence-peddling scandal, but on Wednesday prosecutors said they cannot decide whether she is in fact a suspect until they question her.
"It looks like fears that the president is trying to dodge questioning are becoming a reality," a senior official at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office said. "We didn't expect her to put up such a fight."
Park in a public apology on Nov. 4 had somewhat incredulously promised to "even" submit to questioning.
Another senior official said, "The president is actually a suspect and we can't just sit and watch her attempt to dodge questioning." And a chief public prosecutor said, "The prevailing sentiment among prosecutors is that Park must not be allowed to avoid questioning."
Prosecutors increasingly regard Park as an accomplice to Choi, An and Cha Eun-taek, a prominent promo director and one of Choi's rogues' gallery of drinking buddies, who is suspected of using his ties to her in mafia-type attempts at extortion.
Evidence from An's diary and the phone records of several aides suggests Park was at the forefront of coercing big businesses to donate W77.4 billion to the dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations, both helmed by Choi's drinking buddies, and ordered the regular leakage of classified Cheong Wa Dae documents to Choi, who held no official post (US$1=W1,172).
All the aides who have been questioned have said Park ordered them to commit the breaches. A prosecution source said, "Looking at the evidence that has been found so far, Park seems certain to be charged with leaking state secrets and abuse of authority."
But other sources in the prosecution team admit there is little they can do if Park keeps digging in her heels. The Constitution grants a sitting president immunity from prosecution on charges other than sedition or high treason, so prosecutors cannot force her unless she is impeached.
The only other option would be to name Park as an accomplice when they take Choi and An to court so it becomes a matter of public record, and let events take their course.
"If the president refuses to be questioned, we may have to reach our own conclusion," a prosecution source said.
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