MOSCOW –Special prosecutors investigating a far-reaching corruption scandal in South Korea hope to interrogate President Park Geun-hye this week, the first time a sitting president would face such an inquiry.
The team says an interrogation is tentatively planned for sometime between Wednesday and Friday, and that Park is open to the possibility of face-to-face questioning, the Yonhap news agency reports.
Independent Counsel Park Young-soo is in talks with the president’s lawyers to arrange a date. It would be the first time a sitting South Korean president would be interrogated by law enforcement authorities.
Questioning is likely to cover a number of topics, as according to one special counsel official, “There will be only a single chance to interrogate Park in person.”
Inquiries, then, are likely to cover the president’s role in creating a cultural blacklist of artists critical of her, as well as her role in any contributions by the Samsung Group to cultural bodies controlled by her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, whose influence is at the heart of the ever-expanding scandal. Choi has refused to speak to prosecutors.
The president may also be questioned about her actions following the April 2014 sinking of a ferry that resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, most of them school children.
Members of the prosecutors’ team attempted to search the presidential residence, the Blue House, Feb. 3, but were blocked at the gate. A Blue House statement said the search was unconstitutional, as South Korea’s president cannot be charged with a crime while in office, Reuters reports.
“It is a deep regret that their excessive investigation with a warrant naming the president as a suspect violates the constitution,” the statement said, referring to the prosecutor’s warrant to search the office.
Special prosecution spokesman Lee Kyu-Chul said Sunday that acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn could give permission for the search to go ahead, and insisted that a search of the premises was necessary, though he would not say why. The Blue House has previously said security reasons prevented a search from being possible.
Local media report that prosecutors also want to search the offices of the Blue House chief of staff and of Park’s bodyguards.
Park was impeached by parliament in early December for allegedly pressuring businesses to support Choi’s initiatives and for allowing her friend undue influence over state affairs. She denies any wrongdoing.
The investigation has spilled over into the country’s biggest business circles, with Samsung Group head Jay Lee named as a suspect as well.
South Korean law holds that the president cannot be charged with a crime other than insurrection or treason, Reuters points out.
The country’s Constitutional Court has six months from the Dec. 9 date of Park’s impeachment to decide whether to remove her from office