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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Feb. 1)

All News 06:55 February 01, 2017

No more tricks
Park should comply with special prosecutor’s investigation

The team of special prosecutor Park Young-soo investigating the scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil is zeroing in on its final target, Park.

Investigators indicated that they plan to obtain a warrant to search several places in the Blue House, including Park’s living quarters, this week. They also plan to personally question her.

It is imperative that Park faithfully comply with the investigation, because Park is at the center of all the key elements of the scandal -- from briberies and blacklisting artists and cultural figures to the seven missing hours during the sinking of the Sewol ferry and receiving care from unauthorized medical staff.

For instance, the recent rejection by the court of an arrest warrant for Samsung Group’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong showed why thorough investigation of Park is essential. Investigators saw the money Samsung gave to foundations and sports entities controlled by Choi as part of bribes offered by the conglomerate to Park and Choi. But the court said it could not issue an arrest warrant because the investigation team did not investigate Park.

Likewise, investigators should question Park if they are to corroborate the allegation that Park was behind her administration’s blacklisting of artists and cultural figures who it thought were liberal or critical of the government. Park’s former Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun have already been put into custody on suspicion of masterminding the blacklisting.

Another reason the team’s investigation of Park is crucial is that there are signs that Park and Choi are trying to impede both the investigation and the Constitutional Court’s review of the parliamentary impeachment of Park.

Last week, Park denied all the major allegations against her in an interview with a podcast program. She said that there was “a mountain of lies” to attack her and that she believed there had been a choreographed “conspiracy” to bring down her and the government.

Contrary to her expectations, the interview only added fuel to public fury, not only because it was inappropriate for an impeached president to speak to the public but also because she denied all the major allegations, some of which have already been verified by the state prosecution and the independent counsel team.

It is not a coincidence that on the day Park took the podcast interview, Choi, who had never spoken to reporters on her way to and from the special prosecutor’s office, yelled and claimed that investigators were intimidating her to get her to confess that she and the president share their wealth. Choi’s defense counsel held a news conference the following day to accuse the special prosecutor’s team of using abusive and intimidating language against Choi and infringing upon her human rights.

Park’s defense team appeared to be moving in tandem with Choi’s. In an apparent tactic to delay the Constitutional Court’s impeachment deliberations, it had sought -- in vain -- to call more than 30 people to the witness stand.

Then the defense counsels threatened to resign en masse in response to the call by Park Han-chul, president of the Constitutional Court who retired Monday, to make a ruling before March 13, the day when another justice, Lee Jung-mi, retires.

All these latest developments raise concern that President Park -- as she did with the state prosecution -- may refuse, or at least tamper with, the investigators’ plan to search the Blue House and question her.

In the podcast interview, President Park said she would not avoid investigation by the special prosecutor team. She made the same promise when the state prosecution was investigating the case, but she did not allow investigators to enter the Blue House, citing security and confidentiality reasons. Investigators managed to get materials and data handed over by Blue House officials at a place outside the presidential office.

There is a possibility that -- as former Constitutional Court President Park indicated -- the court reach a verdict in early March. An upholding of impeachment means she will be removed from her office right away. Which means Park’s promise to undergo investigation by the independent counsel may become her last promise as president. This is one of the many reasons she should fully comply with the upcoming investigation.

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