Choi Soon-sil, the South Korean president’s friend who is accused of being behind a massive corruption scandal in the country has been ordered to appear before a parliamentary hearing.
She has been charged over allegations she colluded with President Park Geun-hye to gain influence and money for herself.
Park Geu-hye, who denies corruption, faces an impeachment hearing on December 9.
Amid ongoing street protests, Park Geun-hye has said she will resign once parliament finds a way for her to do so smoothly.
The parliamentary hearing in Seoul is questioning the heads of some of South Korea’s biggest companies, including Samsung, Hyundai, SK, Lotte and LG.
All the companies gave large donations to foundations run by Choi Soon-sil. They are being quizzed over whether the donations were used to gain them favorable treatment by the government.
Image source Wikimedia
All have denied improper activity, though suggested there had been pressure to make donations.
One of the corporate bosses acknowledged that it was difficult for companies to say no to government requests.
“It’s a South Korean reality that if there is a government request, it is difficult for companies to decline,” said Huh Chang-soo, head of the GS Group and chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries lobby group.
Choi Soon-sil, who is in police detention along with two other aides of Park Geun-hye, has so far refused to attend the hearing as a witness, citing ill health.
However, on December 7 she and several other key witnesses, including members of her family, were ordered to appear.
“This hearing is being criticized as a Choi Soon-sil trial without Choi Soon-sil,” said the committee chairman Kim Sung-tae, according to the AFP.
Kim Sung-tae said the panel would “undertake all measures” to make her and other witnesses appear, before sending security officers to collect the group.
They could face jail or fines if they refuse.
The extraordinary scenes are being broadcast live on TV. The panel has no power to punish but its chairman has said the hearing is a place for apologies.
President Park Geun-hye has apologized multiple times to the public for allowing Choi Soon-sil inappropriate access to government decisions but has stopped short of resigning.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has announced she has asked parliament to help her find a way to step down.
Park Geun-hye faced growing calls to resign amid an investigation into whether she allowed close friend Choi Soon-sil to influence political decisions for personal gain.
The president said she would “leave to parliament everything about my future including shortening of my term”, but did not want to leave a power vacuum.
Parliament was due to discuss on December 2 whether President Park Geun-hye should face impeachment.
Opposition parties have said Park Geun-hye should step down “honorably” before it reached that point.
Image source Wikimedia
Park Geun-hye has apologized twice on national TV before, and has said she is “heartbroken” by the political crisis around her, but has refused to resign.
In November 29 TV address, her third since reports of the scandal began, Park Geun-hye said she would resign “once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimizes any power vacuum and chaos in governance”.
A spokesman for the opposition Democratic Party, Youn Kwan-suk, said the speech was a “trick” which “lacked reflection”.
“What people want is her immediate resignation, not dragging out and dodging the responsibility to the parliament,” he told the Yonhap news agency.
The scandal stems from Park Geun-hye’s relationship with Choi Soon-sil.
Choi Soon-sil is accused of trying to extort huge sums of money from South Korean companies.
She is also suspected of using her friendship with Park Geun-hye to solicit business donations for a non-profit fund she controlled.
Choi Soon-sil is in police detention, facing a string of charges.
The allegations have reached across South Korean politics and industry. Two of Park Geun-hye’s aides have also been charged along with a pop music producer.
The offices of the national pension fund have been raided as have several major Korean companies including Lotte and Samsung.
Investigators believe Park Geun-hye had a “considerable” role in the alleged corruption, but the president’s representatives have said the accusations are a “fantasy”.
In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have joined huge street protests across the country demanding that Park Geun-hye leave office.
South Korea is seeing what is thought to be the largest protests so far demanding President Park Geun-hye steps down.
Park Geun-hye is accused of allowing her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to manipulate power from behind the scenes.
She has apologized twice on national TV, but has so far resisted calls to resign.
Image source Wikimedia
According to protest organizers, 1.3 million people had gathered Seoul on November 26, despite cold weather and snow.
They expect another half a million protesters to turn out in other regions.
However, police put the turnout at about 260,000. About 25,000 officers were being deployed in the capital, local media said.
The protests, which began five weeks ago, are the largest in South Korea since pro-democracy demonstrations of the 1980s.
Those attending on November 26 came from a cross-section of South Korean society, with farmers, Buddhist monks and university students all involved.
Park Geun-hye, whose approval rating has dropped to 5%, apologized earlier this month for putting “too much faith in a personal relationship”, and has pledged to co-operate in an official investigation into the scandal.
South Korea’s constitution does not allow a sitting president to be prosecuted, and Park Geun-hye has 15 months left in her term.
Now that prosecutors have directly linked Park Geun-hye to the scandal, it is possible she could be impeached for breaking the law.
Prosecutors are expected to bring charges against Choi Soon-sil, along with two former presidential aides. She was arrested earlier this month.
Choi Soon-sil is accused of trying to extort huge sums of money from South Korean companies, and suspected of using her friendship with President Park Geun-hye to solicit business donations for a non-profit fund she controlled.