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South Korean prosecutors summon ousted leader Park over scandal | Reuters

By Christine Kim and Ju-min Park
| SEOUL

SEOUL South Korean prosecutors summoned ousted leader Park Geun-hye on Wednesday for questioning next week about a corruption scandal that led to her dismissal as president, the prosecutors’ office said.

Park, South Korea’s first democratically elected president to be removed from office, had been summoned to appear for questioning at 9.30 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Tuesday, the prosecutors’ office said in a text message to media.

The Constitutional Court dismissed Park from office on Friday when it upheld a parliamentary impeachment vote over an influence-peddling scandal that has shaken South Korea’s political and business elite. Park has denied any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has been acting president since December, when parliament voted to impeach Park, and a snap presidential election will be held by May 9.

The political turmoil comes at a time of rising tension with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, and with China over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea that China sees as a threat to its security.

One of Park’s lawyers confirmed that prosecutors had notified them of the date they wanted to question her, and that she would meet them.

“We’ve been notified of the date and will cooperate with the investigation,” the lawyer, Hwang Seong-wook, told Reuters.

Prosecutors have not said how long they think their investigation would last.

Park left the Blue House presidential compound in Seoul on Sunday to return to her private home in the capital as an ordinary citizen, stripped of her presidential immunity that had shielded her from prosecution.

Park said through a spokesman on Sunday she felt sorry about not being able to complete her term but, striking a defiant tone about the prospect of facing an investigation, also said the truth would come out.

She has not made any public comment since then.

OPPOSITION VICTORY?

A special prosecution team had accused Park of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses into contributing to foundations set up to support her policies and allowing Choi to influence state affairs.

Choi also denied wrongdoing.

Jay Y. Lee, the head of Samsung Group, South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, is on trial on bribery, embezzlement and other charges in connection with the scandal.

Lee, who is being held in jail, denies all the charges against him. Samsung also denies any wrongdoing.

The scandal has undermined support for the ruling conservatives. A prominent liberal politician is leading in opinion polls and is expected to become the next president.

The prospect of an opposition victory has raised questions about the future in South Korea of the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China opposes because it says its radar can penetrate its territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit South Korea, as well as Japan and China, this week.

Tillerson will meet Hwang, the acting president, and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul on Friday.

He is not scheduled to see opposition figures, a U.S. State Department official said, raising questions about the durability of any agreements.

The aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson is in South Korean waters this week, conducting exercises with South Korean forces.

North Korea said the exercises were part of a “reckless scheme” to attack it and it warned the United States of “merciless” strikes if the carrier infringed on its sovereignty or dignity.

The U.S. and South Korean military chiefs spoke by telephone on Tuesday and recognized that North Korea could “conduct provocative actions” in response to the exercises, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s office said in Washington.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Se Young Lee; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait)


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