November 21, 2016 11:07
Prosecutors on Sunday named President Park Geun-hye as an accomplice in charges of corruption and abuse of authority brought against her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and two former presidential aides.
Announcing the indictments of Choi, An Chong-bum and Jeong Ho-seong over the extortion of billions of won from top conglomerates and leakage of classified documents, the prosecution said Park colluded with them in the alleged crimes.
"We have named the president as a suspect because we believe she was an accomplice," Lee Young-ryeol, who heads the special investigation team, told reporters.
This is the first time an incumbent president has been named as a criminal suspect. Prosecutors vowed to continue investigating Park even though the Constitution prevents them from indicting a sitting president on charges other than insurgency and treason, with a view to charging her the moment she leaves office.
A prosecution official said, "We included only charges against the president that can be proven 99 percent."
According to the indictment, Park ordered An, her former senior secretary for policy coordination, in July of last year to set up one-on-one meetings with the heads of major conglomerates and used the meetings to "actively support" culture and sports foundations she intended to establish.
It says Park asked Choi to "handle the management" of the foundations. An then turned to the Federation of Korean Industries to collect the money.
The Mir Foundation was set up on Oct. 16, 2015 with W48.6 billion from big businesses and the K-Sports Foundation in January this year with W28.8 billion (US$1=W1,185).
Prosecutors say Park ordered An to name the foundations and open their offices in Gangnam according to Choi's instructions. Choi is said to have enlisted the president to pressure the Lotte Group, which was then being investigated by prosecutors, to donate W7 billion to a sports facility in Hanam south of Seoul.
She also allegedly enlisted Park in leaning on Hyundai Motor, POSCO and KT to award W16 billion worth of business projects to a dodgy advertising company and sports marketing firm Choi had established.
Park is also accused of pressuring conglomerates to buy products from a small business run by the parents of a friend of Choi's daughter, Chung Yoo-ra. The firm then sold around W1 billion worth of products to Hyundai Motor and gave Choi an W11-million Chanel bag and some W50 million in cash for the favor.
A prosecution source said, "It was a system where Choi made the solicitation and the president offered favors to big business leaders, while An was instructed to make sure that the deal went through."
Park also allegedly passed Choi around 180 documents between January 2013 and April of this year, including plans for the appointment of high-ranking government officials, documents for meetings with her Cabinet and chief secretaries, and files related to her overseas visits. Forty-seven of those documents were classified.
Jeong, the former secretary for private presidential affairs, allegedly made the deliveries.
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