Park Geun-hye faces questioning

Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam leaves the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office in southern Seoul, Monday. The prosecution will question former President Park Geun-hye as early as this week. / Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho

The prosecution plans to summon former President Park Geun-hye, who has lost her presidential immunity, for questioning as early as this week concerning 13 criminal charges leveled against her.

A special team of 31 prosecutors will resume the work to reveal the truth behind the major corruption scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil, after reviewing the results of the investigation by independent counsel Park Young-soo.

Given that the prosecution has already collected “plenty of evidence” about her alleged crimes, it is only a matter of time before it summons her for questioning.

An official from the prosecution said it is considering all possible options, including imposing a travel ban on Park and searching Cheong Wa Dae to collect additional evidence.

During the first investigation in November, prosecutors accused her of eight charges; while later the independent counsel leveled five more, including bribery that could put her behind bars for life.

However, neither the prosecution nor the counsel could question Park as she hid behind her presidential privileges.

In theory, prosecutors can immediately request an arrest warrant for Park. But most likely, they will ask her to come to their office voluntarily for questioning.

Prosecutors are also expected to search the presidential office to collect more evidence as much of the scandal still remains a mystery, including her absence during the sinking of the ferry Sewol which resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people.

After searching Cheong Wa Dae, prosecutors are confident that they can arrest Woo Byung-woo, a former presidential secretary who was able to avoid arrest for a lack of evidence.

With the next presidential election likely to be held in May, some right-wing politicians, including Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the Liberty Korea Party, claim that prosecutors should put off their investigation of Park until after the poll because it could affect the vote.

But most others believe otherwise. Moon Jae-in, the most popular presidential hopeful who lost in the previous election to Park in 2012, urged the prosecution to start the investigation immediately.

Speaking to reporters at the office of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) in Seoul, Sunday, he said there is no reason to delay the investigation because Park is not a presidential candidate. Moon also expressed concern over the possible destruction of evidence.

Rep. Cho Eung-cheon of the DPK, also said prosecutors are responsible for preventing the possible destruction of evidence at Cheong Wa Dae.

According to a recent survey by Realmeter, 87.2 percent of respondents said the prosecution should investigate Park. When asked what area they should focus on, 30.6 percent said her alleged corrupt ties with business tycoons. So far, only Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-young has been indicted on charges of bribery among others.

Prosecutors plan to question the leaders of major companies, including Lotte, SK and CJ, over the same allegations.

The result of the investigation into the scandal will be critical for the prosecution, which must regain public trust to avoid massive reform, which all presidential hopefuls have promised to implement.

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