SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors on Monday questioned the woman at the center of a political scandal that has shattered public confidence in President Park Geun-Hye, with allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs.
In the wake of mass street protests in Seoul and other cities to demand Park’s resignation, Choi Soon-Sil — who has denied any criminal wrongdoing — submitted to prosecutors in Seoul a day after flying back to the country from Germanay.
Park and Choi have been close friends for 40 years. The precise nature of that friendship lies at the heart of the current scandal, which has triggered media frenzy in South Korea, with lurid reports of religious cults and rituals.
“We hope that the various allegations can be thoroughly verified,” presidential spokesman Jung Youn-Kuk told reporters ahead of Choi’s questioning.
A public apology by Park, in which she acknowledged seeking limited advice from Choi, did little to assuage public outrage and she has struggled to draw a political line under the crisis.
Park carried out a partial reshuffle of her key aides on Sunday and is considering calls from her ruling Saenuri Party to form a neutral multi-party cabinet to restore public trust and national unity.
In a message sent to reporters, one of her senior advisers who stepped down in the reshuffle described Park as “lonely and sad”.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has stopped short of demanding the president’s resignation, but is refusing to begin cross-party talks until the investigation into Choi has run its course.
Analysts say the scandal could paralyze Park’s administration, underlining her lame-duck status ahead of presidential elections in December next year.
In his Monday press briefing, presidential spokesman Jung stressed that the ongoing political uncertainty would not be allowed to open even the “slightest crack” in the country’s defense posture.
“The government will maintain a firm readiness under any circumstances, and unwaveringly take care of key foreign policy and security issues,” Jung said.