SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - A South Korean special prosecutor Saturday summoned a jailed friend of impeached President Park Geun-hye, who allegedly exploited her connections with Park to extort money and favors from the country's largest companies and manipulate government affairs.
In handcuffs, white prison clothes and a surgical mask, Choi Soon-sil was escorted into a southern Seoul office where investigators have been widening their inquiry into a scandal. Millions of protesters have taken to the streets before the country's opposition-controlled parliament December 9 voted to impeach Park.
Indictments, newer allegations
Lee Kyu Chul, an official from the investigation team led by special prosecutor Park Young-soo, said without elaborating that Choi will be broadly questioned on charges that were included in indictments and also on newer allegations. Choi can be summoned several more times in the coming weeks, he said.
Lee also said the team is planning to question President Park, but did not say when that might happen.
“We can investigate (the president) depending on how things develop and we are preparing for it in our own way,” Lee told reporters.
Choi's summons came as crowds began to gather near the presidential palace to call for Park's permanent removal, extending the historically biggest protest movement in the country to Christmas Eve. Organizers expected the rally to be festive, but there was tension as Park's conservative supporters also planned to gather in nearby streets.
The Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether Park should permanently step down or be reinstated. Her presidential powers are suspended until then, with the prime minister serving as the government caretaker.
State prosecutors have accused Park of colluding with Choi as she allegedly amassed an illicit fortune and held extraordinary sway over government decisions, such as choosing Cabinet ministers.
They have now handed over their investigation to the special prosecutor, whose team earlier Saturday summoned the country's former vice sports minister Kim Chong.
Kim is suspected of helping Choi wrest money and favors from Samsung, the country's largest business group. He also allegedly swung lucrative business deals to sports organizations that Choi controlled and influenced the ministry's decision to financially support a winter sports group run by Choi's niece, who has also been arrested.
Samsung is under suspicion that it sponsored Choi to win government backing for a controversial merger between two affiliates last year that helped promote a father-to-son transfer of leadership and corporate wealth at the group.