SEOUL: The woman at the center of the snowballing political scandal engulfing President Park Geun-Hye has been put under emergency detention after prosecutors said she was “unstable” and a flight risk.
Choi Soon-Sil, who has come to be known as a female Rasputin, is facing allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs over her decades-long friendship with Park. Choi was grilled for hours on Monday after she returned to the country following mass street protests and handed herself in.
“There is a possibility of Choi trying to destroy evidence as she is denying all the allegations,” a prosecution official told the Yonhap news agency, explaining the decision to hold her for 48 hours.
“She has fled overseas in the past, and she doesn’t have a permanent address in this country, making her a flight risk.
“She is also in an extremely unstable psychological state, and it’s possible an unexpected event could occur if she is released,” the official added.
Choi flew back to Seoul Sunday from Germany to submit to herself for questioning and was mobbed by hundreds of journalists and angry protesters waving placards demanding her arrest.
Dressed from head to toe in black, Choi lost her hat, sunglasses and one Prada shoe as she struggled through the scrum to the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office on Monday.
“Please forgive me. I have committed a deadly sin,” Choi said after she made it inside the building, Yonhap reported.
After a night in detention, she was escorted back to the prosecutors’ office early Tuesday wearing prison uniform for another round of questioning — which could last for days, Yonhap said.
Prosecutors have to decide whether to seek a warrant to formally arrest Choi before the emergency detention period expires.
Park and Choi have been close friends for 40 years. Choi has 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. Suggestions that Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents have exposed Park to public anger and ridicule.
Park issued a public apology last week, acknowledging seeking limited advice from Choi on her speeches. But it did little to assuage public outrage, with mass street protests erupting in Seoul and other cities to demand Park’s resignation.
On Tuesday, a man rammed an excavator into a key building belonging to South Korea’s prosecution service in Seoul. The 45-year-old was detained and later told police interrogators that he had carried out the attack in a bid “to help Choi die as she said she committed a deadly sin”, according to Yonhap.