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(LEAD) Special prosecution requests court to allow raid on presidential office

All News 18:04 February 10, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES headline, lead, throughout with suit filed; ADDS more info throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's special prosecution on Friday asked a court to allow it to search the presidential office as part of a corruption probe of President Park Geun-hye after investigators were denied entry by her aides last week.

The probe team submitted the request to the Seoul Administration Court, seeking the suspension of the presidential officials' disapproval of the search, the court and the prosecution said.

Independent Counsel Park Young-soo also filed a lawsuit with the same court against Park's chief of staff and chief security officer to nullify the decision to block the prosecutors' entry into the presidential premises.

The investigators tried to execute a court-issued search warrant last Friday seeking to secure evidence ahead of a face-to-face questioning of President Park.

But the presidential officials stopped them citing security reasons. Under the country's law, military facilities and other areas that handle confidential information cannot be searched without approval from the person in charge of the location. Yet, the law also prohibits the person from refusing to grant such consent unless it infringes upon key national interests.

Independent counsel spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters that if the request is accepted, it would deprive the presidential office of an excuse to block the investigators.

"If the presidential office blocks the search and seizure after the court makes its disapproval statement ineffective, that could possibly constitute an obstruction of duty," he said.

The raid into Cheong Wa Dae will become impossible if the suit is turned down by the court, the spokesman added.

It is yet unclear when the court will deliver its ruling.

Lee said he expects the court to hold a hearing sometime next week, as the probe team's investigation deadline is slated for Feb. 28. The court-issued search warrant is also valid until the last day of this month.

The special prosecutors can request an extra 30 days for their investigation with consent from Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, but Hwang has been refraining from making a clear remark on whether he will approve the request.

"Special prosecutors still have some 20 days left and that is a considerable (amount) of time," Hwang said during a parliamentary interpellation session Friday.

The presidential office did not make any official comment on the filing, apparently believing that the special prosecutors intended to arouse public attention in order to pressure the presidential office to accept the search.

"We have no special comment to make (about the lawsuit)," a presidential aide told Yonhap News Agency over the phone, declining to be named.

Park, awaiting the Constitutional Court's decision on her ouster, has been suspended from exercising presidential powers since the parliament voted to impeach her in December.

She is accused of letting her friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and gain personal profits using her ties to the president.

Special prosecutors also named President Park as an accomplice in her former aides' blacklisting of cultural figures deemed critical of the government, though she has been flatly denying the allegations.

Park's former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and ex-Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun were indicted on Tuesday on charges of abuse of authority and coercion for allegedly creating and managing the list to deny those artists state support.

In this file photo taken on Jan. 8, 2017, people look at the gate of the presidential house Cheong Wa Dae. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly the previous month. The president is said to be staying indoors and preparing for legal proceedings that have started at the Constitutional Court to determine whether or not to permanently unseat her. (Yonhap)


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