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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Feb. 8)

All News 07:09 February 08, 2017

Face-to-face questioning
Park should face special prosecutors' inquiry without conditions

Special prosecutors reportedly plan to question President Park Geun-hye face-to-face later this week about the influence-peddling scandal involving her and her confidante Choi Soon-sil. Local news outlets said the Blue House is likely to let them question Park in private on its premises.

But the public cannot put aside doubts that she may change her mind at the last minute or that she may keep making excuses if she does face questioning. She went back on her promise to let prosecutors question her about the scandal before special prosecutors took over the case. Special prosecutors were blocked from entering the Blue House last week to search and seize materials needed for the investigation. She has not appeared in the Constitutional Court trying her impeachment. She explained herself unilaterally in apology statements, a meeting with reporters and an interview with an internet news outlet.

The face-to-face questioning by special prosecutors may be the last chance for Park to testify about the scandal which led the parliament to impeach her. She should face the questioning without conditions and answer questions faithfully. She should buttress her pleas of innocence with irrefutable evidence.

The questions are expected to focus on charges that she was involved in extorting funds from businesses to set up foundations controlled by Choi, that she pressured Samsung Electronics to provide money to Choi, and that she instructed her aides to blacklist artists who are dissatisfied with the government.

Park recently submitted to the Constitutional Court her written statement denying all impeachment charges against her. It was her first formal statement related to her impeachment. She claimed that she had not been aware of Choi interfering in personnel matters, that she took appropriate procedures in what the investigators found unfair adverse personnel actions against some government officials, that she only leaked her speeches and that she was not directly involved in establishing the foundations.

Investigation findings disprove Park's claims. And yet Park has consistently dismissed them, saying that someone plotted against her or that she did not know Choi had peddled power for profit even though she has known Choi for 40 years.

In connection with the Choi and blacklist scandals, her former secretary, senior secretary, chief secretary, minister of culture and vice minister of culture are being investigated in detention. Some of them confessed to wrongdoings as Park had instructed. Park should feel a sense of responsibility as the president who oversaw them. Did the buck stop at her aides?

In order to find the truth and prevent such a national disgrace, Park should not only face the questioning, but cooperate with special prosecutors' efforts to obtain materials from Cheong Wa Dae. Its blockade of their entry for a search gives the impression that there is something to hide.

The special prosecutors on Monday hinted that they might not attempt again to search Cheong Wa Dae, considering its objection and because what they want is to obtain materials rather than to enter Cheong Wa Dae to search it. They said they were considering receiving whatever materials Cheong Wa Dae will volunteer to provide. They seem to have taken a step back on the Cheong Wa Dae search. Normally, a search and seizure under warrant is a necessary procedure to further an investigation.

A search and seizure warrant itself is as good as the law in a law-governed state. Cheong Wa Dae is not an absolute sanctum, at least in relation to the Choi scandal. It is the epicenter of the scandal.

The special prosecutors believe Cheong Wa Dae has many materials related to the scandal. They recently found that 39 datebooks belonging to An Chong-bum, former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs now in detention, had been in Cheong Wa Dae until one of his aides handed the evidence to the special prosecutors. An is said to have jotted down Park's instructions on the datebooks. Reportedly, An had the datebooks moved to Cheong Wa Dae, a place difficult to search.

The results of special prosecutors' investigations will likely have much influence on the Constitutional Court's decision on the impeachment, which is expected to come before March 13 when one of the eight justices is to retire. Protests for and against the impeachment are getting tense, and clashes between them are feared to erupt after the court decision to either uphold or reject the impeachment. Its decision will leave many aftereffects. Given the gravity of the situation, Park should face the questioning and tell the truth.

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