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(3rd LD) Special counsel seeks to interrogate Park in person this week

All News 22:58 February 05, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with Park's submission of opinion to court in last four paras)

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- The special counsel investigating an influence-peddling scandal centered on impeached President Park Geun-hye is seeking to interrogate her face-to-face this week. It will be the first-ever prosecution inquiry of a sitting South Korean president if it is carried out as planned, officials said Sunday.

Independent Counsel Park Young-soo is in talks with the president's lawyers with a plan to hold the interrogation of the president sometime between Wednesday and Friday, according to officials from the special investigation team.

(3rd LD) Special counsel seeks to interrogate Park in person this week - 1

"If the face-to-face interrogation can be carried out, it will be on a date between Wednesday and Friday," an official on the independent counsel team said. "The final schedule will be fixed in the very near future."

Last Friday, the special prosecutor team attempted to search the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, but was denied entry on the ground of state confidentiality concerns.

President Park has, however, been receptive to the possibility of in-person questioning. The location is likely to be either inside Cheong Wa Dae or a government estate outside the presidential residence.

It would mark the first time ever for a sitting South Korean president to be interrogated by law enforcement authorities if the plan is carried out as planned.

(3rd LD) Special counsel seeks to interrogate Park in person this week - 2

The envisioned inquiry is likely to focus on what role the president played in Samsung Group's financial contributions to cultural foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, an imprisoned long-time friend of the president. Also, it will touch on her role in crafting a blacklist, through which cultural figures and artists were unconstitutionally discriminated against. Park has repeatedly denied those charges.

Park is also likely to be grilled over suspicions involving the seven hours immediately following the sinking of a South Korean ferry on April 16, 2014, off the country's southwest coast.

She has been reported to have stayed in her residential quarters inside Cheong Wa Dae before making her first public appearance after the sinking. More than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school field trip, were killed in the accident.

"There will be only a single chance to interrogate Park in person," a special counsel official said, vowing thorough preparation.

An official on the presidential side said they will use the inquiry as a chance to "rectify what is wrong and illuminate what needs to be legally clarified."

Later on Sunday, the special probe team's spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said the team will wait until a decision by Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn before deciding whether it will try again to search the presidential house.

After the team failed in the search attempt last week, it referred to Hwang for approval of a search although the acting president later alluded to his disallowance.

"We leave open all the possibilities including arbitrary submission (of documents by Cheong Wa Dae instead of a direct search)," Lee said. Still, an on-site search is necessary for the special prosecution team as part of the evidence collection process, he said.

Meanwhile, Park has submitted a letter of opinion denying all accusations against her to the Constitutional Court, her lawyer said Sunday. The court must decide by early June whether to unseat or reinstate the president after she was impeached by parliament in December over the influence-peddling scandal centered on Choi.

This marks the first time she formally presented her position to the court. The president has persistently said the charges leveled against her are false and that she will prove her innocence in court.

Park stated in the written opinion on Friday that she wasn't aware of Choi's alleged intervention in the government's personnel affairs and has leaked no secret documents other than presidential speeches, according to court sources.

But she failed to submit additional documents on her whereabouts during the seven hours immediately after the Sewol ferry sinking, they said.


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