SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors on Saturday raided the homes and offices of senior advisers to President Park Geun-Hye, as she struggled with a corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving a close family friend.
The crisis centered around Park’s long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil has rocked her presidency, thanks largely to a lurid back-story involving talk of religious cults, shamanist rituals and corruption.
In Saturday’s raids, prosecutors confiscated computers and documents from the homes of a top presidential adviser and two other aides as well as a deputy culture minister, Yonhap news agency said.
They also searched some offices in the presidential Blue House complex, Yonhap said.
The move came ahead of a mass protest in Seoul, organized after it emerged that Park had allowed Choi, who has no official post or security clearance, to meddle in affairs of state.
Thousands of people were expected to turn out for the candle-lit demonstration and call on the president, whose popularity ratings have plunged to record lows, to step down.
Choi is being investigated for using her ties to Park to coerce money out of major conglomerates, but the real shock has been revelations that Park had allowed Choi to vet her presidential speeches and apparently advise her on crucial policy choices.
Park has publicly apologized and late Friday she told 10 of her senior advisers to tender their resignations ahead of a reshuffle of her presidential office.
Choi, 60, is the daughter of a shadowy religious figure, Choi-Tae-Min, who headed a cult-like group and was a long-time mentor to Park up until his death in 1994.
Media reports have portrayed Choi Soon-Sil as a Rasputin-like figure with an inappropriate and unhealthy influence over Park that she inherited from her father.
Choi left the country for Germany in early September as reports of her alleged influence-peddling began to emerge.
An early banner displayed at the venue for Saturday’s rally read “Choi come back, Park get out.”
Choi’s lawyer said she was well aware of the “gravity” of the situation and was “willing to return home to be questioned and punished if she did anything wrong.”
Prosecutors have taken in two of Choi’s close aides for questioning, including one who told reporters that Choi had been behaving as Park’s de facto regent.