November 29, 2016 11:19
President Park Geun-hye's lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha said Monday that the beleaguered president will not appear before prosecutors to be questioned about her role in a massive corruption scandal. Prosecutors had asked Park to submit to questioning in person by Tuesday.
"The president has scheduling difficulties as she prepares for urgent tasks, including who to appoint as an independent counsel, with candidates expected to be recommended by tomorrow," Yoo claimed. "We regret that we are unable to cooperate with face-to-face questioning."
In a public address on Nov. 4, Park vowed to cooperate with the investigation, but she has refused four times since then to respond to prosecutors' requests to question her.
An incumbent president cannot be tried for offenses other than treason or insurrection.
Park's refusal seems to stem from being named as an accomplice in the snowballing crony scandal and possibly facing charges of soliciting bribes.
Prosecutors said they expected the president to refuse but do not buy her excuse. "It looks like a ploy to avoid being charged with bribery," said one prosecutor based outside Seoul.
Prosecutors are now looking into whether Park offered specific favors in one-to-one meetings with conglomerate owners where she allegedly leaned on them to donate huge sums to two dodgy foundations controlled by her crony Choi Soon-sil.
Prosecutors are out of ammunition since there is less than a week left before the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the charges against her. A prosecution source said, "The probe by the independent counsel will probably be an extension of the investigation conducted by prosecutors."
Prosecutors say they can already prove charges that Park and Cheong Wa Dae pressured big businesses to cough up money for the dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations, which were staffed with Choi's drinking buddies and awarded lucrative contracts to her paper companies.
Of particular interest now are Woo Byung-woo, Park's former senior secretary for civil affairs, and former Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff Kim Ki-choon.
Both were in office in November 2014 during a scandal involving Choi's former husband, Chung Yun-hoi, and allegedly played a key role in trying to influence the prosecution's probe of the incident.
Chung was then also accused of meddling in state affairs although he had no official position. He had been Park's personal secretary when she was a lawmaker. That means that the independent counsel's investigation could double back on prosecutors themselves.
One prosecution official said, "There is a lot of interest in which prosecutors were influenced by Woo and Kim."
But some legal experts forecast a rocky road for the independent counsel because Park has only agreed to be questioned by a "neutral" investigator, while Kim and Woo, who are no strangers to legal affairs, had plenty of time to cover their tracks.
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