The prosecution said Monday that it had recently summoned a close male confidant of President Park Geun-hye as part of its ongoing investigation into the Sankei Shimbun over its Aug. 3 article.
The Japanese newspaper speculated in its report that Park was staying with her close male aide, Chung Yoon-hoi, at a private residence in Seoul when the ferry Sewol capsized on the morning of April 16.
The 59-year-old Chung, who recently appeared before the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, reportedly told investigators that he “had not gone to Cheong Wa Dae on April 16, and did not meet with President Park on that day.” Chung also reportedly argued that he is not a key aide of Park.
The prosecution’s investigation into Chung came after it summoned the head of the paper’s Seoul bureau, Tatsuya Katou, 48, on Aug. 18.
In its online report, Sankei raised questions about Park’s whereabouts on the day of the ferry sinking. The newspaper said that she had allegedly left the office for about seven hours that day.
Opposition lawmakers including Reps. Park Young-sun and Kim Hyun-mi have also continued to call for the presidential office to reveal what took place during Park’s “mysterious seven hours” on April 16.
After the Sewol sank that morning, President Park reportedly asked her staff later that day, “Why did the authorities fail to (rescue) … passengers who were wearing life jackets?”
Cheong Wa Dae has dismissed the rumors and report, stressing that the president was staying at the presidential residence. A secretary noted that she took care of state affairs “not only at the official office but also at the presidential residence.”
Allegations have surfaced that some presidential secretaries were unable to meet face-to-face with Park on the morning of the sinking.
While the prosecution is expected to determine whether to hand out criminal punishment to the paper after reviewing the background of the article and Katou’s statements, the paper’s Japanese headquarters said it believed that the Korean prosecution would investigate the case “on the basis of freedom of expression and information.”
According to some political-affairs pundits, Chung has been a key adviser to Park since 1998, when the president entered the Assembly after winning the by-election for the Dalseong district in Daegu.
Chung also reportedly contributed to Park’s 2012 presidential election victory through low-key campaign activities.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)