Independent Counsel Wraps up Investigation into Crony Scandal

  • By Jung Nok-yong

    February 28, 2017 12:02

    Acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn on Monday refused to extend the mandate of the independent counsel investigating the massive corruption scandal that has brought President Park Geun-hye down. The probe ends on Tuesday.

    In a press statement, Hwang said, "After long consideration, I have decided not to extend the investigation by the independent counsel, in order to stabilize the state's affairs" as soon as possible. "The investigation is almost complete, as key figures in the scandal have been indicted, so the rest can be finalized by the prosecutors," he added.

    Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the independent counsel, said, "It is regrettable that the acting president did not agree to extend the investigation while several issues remain unresolved."

    Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the independent counsel, briefs reporters at the independent counsel's office in Seoul on Monday.

    On Tuesday, the final day of the probe's mandate, the independent counsel plans to indict 10 to 15 suspects including de facto Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong, who is accused of paying W43.3 billion in bribes to Park's longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil in return for the government green-lighting a merger between two Samsung affiliates. The merger cleared the way for Lee to take over from his comatose father despite holding only a small fraction of the companies' shares.

    The independent counsel has already indicted 13 government officials, including former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Cho Yoon-sun. The two are accused of compiling a blacklist of artists critical of the Park administration.

    The counsel is also expected to indict Choi on charges of brokering and receiving bribes, and obstructing business by having her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, illicitly gain admission to Ewha Womans University.

    The counsel will announce the results of its investigation on Thursday or Friday, and turn all of its documents over to prosecutors to continue the probe. These include files on former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo, who escaped arrest over his role in leading the cover-up of the scandal.

    The counsel expressed strong regret at not being able to search Cheong Wa Dae or question Park in person. Spokesman Lee said the two sides were "unable to reach a compromise" on the issue of recording the questioning, which Cheong Wa Dae apparently opposed.

    Meanwhile, the floor leaders of the four main opposition parties agreed to convene an extra session of the National Assembly in March to seek ways to continue the investigation into the crony scandal.

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