South Korea arrests president’s confidante at center of scandal

South Korea arrests president’s confidante at center of scandal

Tue Nov 1, 2016 6:42AM

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye’s longtime friend has been held for a second day of questioning after being detained over alleged corruption and influence-peddling.

The 60-year-old Choi Soon-Sil, reportedly a fortune teller and a cult leader, was interrogated by prosecutors after she appeared at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday.

She arrived in handcuffs and a surgical mask after flying back from Germany to hand herself in for questioning following mass street demonstrations demanding her arrest and Park’s resignation.

Park’s confidante for decades, Choi is the prime figure of a recent scandal, in which she has been accused of allegedly masterminding government policy and decision making for financial gain.

The media has portrayed her as a Rasputin-like figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Park and interfered in government policy despite holding no official post and having no security clearance.

Park and Choi have been close friends for 40 years. Suggestions that Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents have exposed Park to public anger and ridicule.

With just over a year left in office, the scandal has pushed Park’s approval ratings off a cliff. Park has said she had given Choi access to speech drafts early in her term and apologized for causing concern among the public.

But it did little to assuage public outrage, with mass street protests erupting in Seoul and other cities to demand Park’s resignation.

According to a survey published Tuesday, Park’s approval rating was 9.2 percent, with 67 percent of voters saying she should step down.

Choi has also been accused of using her relationship with the president to coerce corporate donations to two non-profit foundations, and then siphon off funds for personal use.

On Tuesday, prosecutors widened their investigations into the case by raiding firms owned or run by Cha Eun-taek, a famous advertisement director and Choi’s close aide. He is also suspected of interfering in the government’s cultural projects.They also raided the offices of at least four banks to obtain information on Choi’s financial transactions.

The scandal has drawn a stinging response from the South Korean public. Early on Tuesday morning, a man rammed his excavator into the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office building in Seoul, where Choi was being questioned. A security guard was injured and the entrance door to the building was damaged in the incident.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the driver was nabbed by police on site. During his interrogation, he said that he had carried out the attack “to help Choi Soon-sil die because she said she committed a sin that deserves death.”

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