Prosecutors Take off Kid Gloves in Questioning of Park Aide

  • By Park Sang-ki

    April 07, 2017 09:54

    Former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo speaks to reporters on arrival at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Thursday.

    Prosecutors seem to be taking off their kid gloves in dealing with the oddly untouchable former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo.

    Woo, a well-connected former prosecutor, is suspected of leading the cover-up in the massive corruption scandal that has brought down President Park Geun-hye but has mysteriously managed to evade scrutiny for six months.

    On Thursday, prosecutors grilled him on charges of obstructing an investigation into the causes of the 2014 ferry disaster, harassing officials at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism who protested against meddling by Park crony Choi Soon-sil, and aiding and abetting Choi in her extortion rackets.

    He went home early Friday morning after being questioned for nearly 17 hours.

    It was the third time Woo was questioned by prosecutors, but the first two rounds were amiable affairs. In November, reporters snapped Woo through the windows in a break between sessions, smiling and making small talk with his interrogators and having tea with the chief prosecutor.

    A Seoul court earlier rejected the independent counsel's request for an arrest warrant citing lack of evidence.

    But now prosecutors say they will apply for another arrest warrant as early as Friday. Woo, as presidential secretary for civil affairs, was in charge of auditing Cheong Wa Dae staff, and is considered a key figure in keeping the circus going.

    He stands accused of ordering prosecutors in Gwangju not to file charges against those suspected of negligence in the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry that killed more than 300 passengers.

    He is also suspected of ordering audits of culture ministry officials who baulked at Choi's meddling via a placeholder, vice culture minister Kim Chong, whom she levered into office to facilitate her lucrative shenanigans.

    Appearing at the prosecutors' office on Thursday, Woo for the first time ditched his trademark cockiness and said, "I feel heartbroken about the president." But he continued to deny even knowing who Choi was.

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