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Parties agree to launch special probe on Choi

Saenuri demands major reshuffle at presidential secretariat, Cabinet

The ruling and opposition parties agreed Wednesday to pursue a special investigation by an independent counsel on allegations that Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of President Park Geun-hye, had meddled in state affairs.

Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, said his party agreed unanimously on the formation of a special prosecution on the “shadow president” scandal, following the lead taken by opposition parties.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea endorsed the party leadership’s plan to push for the inquiry through a coalition with the minor far-left Justice Party.

“I suggest that we (the rival parties) immediately start a talk for the special prosecution,” Rep. Chung said after an emergency general assembly of Saenuri lawmakers.

Earlier in the day, Saenuri’s top decision-making supreme council had called on the president to enact a sweeping reshuffle of the Cabinet and the presidential secretariat.

The political moves came as the prosecution, which has been looking into influence-peddling allegations involving Choi, searched her home and offices Wednesday morning, apparently accelerating its probe after weeks of slow progress. Choi is believed to be hiding in Germany.

Choi is an old friend of Park. She is also the daughter of Park’s late mentor Choi Tae-min and the ex-wife of her former secretary Jeong Yoon-hoe. The latest revelations suggest that Choi had received regular reports on Park’s schedule, speeches, personnel arrangements and even some classified information, such as secret inter-Korea military meetings.

Park on Tuesday admitted to having sought Choi’s opinions on her speeches and apologized. 

An investigator takes paper boxes into the K-Sports Foundation building in Gangnam, southern Seoul, Wednesday, as the prosecution begins a search of the foundation’s office as part of an ongoing investigation. (Yonhap)
An investigator takes paper boxes into the K-Sports Foundation building in Gangnam, southern Seoul, Wednesday, as the prosecution begins a search of the foundation’s office as part of an ongoing investigation. (Yonhap)

During her apology Tuesday, Park said she stopped sending Choi documents after the presidential secretaries were appointed. However, her claim was refuted within hours when local cable station TV JTBC revealed that Choi received reports until at least mid-2014, 1 1/2 years after the president took office. JTBC broke the news after finding a computer used by Choi which had over 200 files containing confidential information.

According to another TV channel, TV Chosun, Choi, in 2014, received a report on the presidential office’s detailed personnel plans, including the candidates for the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs post.

It also disclosed video footage of Choi in November that year supposedly giving instructions to staff on what the president should wear during official events -- outfits which Park ended up wearing.

Minjoo Party chief Rep. Choo Mi referred to Choi as “the president of the night,” referring to her supposed influence over the president.

“This ‘disaster’ that has shattered the state system was brought on by Park, yet she fails to recognize how grave the situation is. ... I’m curious after Park’s 90-second apology (on Tuesday), if she knows what ‘classified’ means, if she knows the danger of leaking information, if she cannot distinguish between public and private matters, and if she indeed feels any sense of guilt or shame,” Choo said.

Presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk on Wednesday refused to comment on what the president’s next action would be or whether she plans to leave the ruling Saenuri Party as demanded by some of its lawmakers.

“I think she would have no choice but to do that (leave the party),” said Rep. Na Kyung-won of the Saenuri during a radio interview, adding that her staff should also resign en masse.

Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil, who once during his campaign pledged to “protect Park,” called the current situation “a national crisis” and said that the president “has disappeared from the minds of people.”

Rep. Kim Young-tae called Park’s apology “lie-ridden from start to end,” and reiterated his demand that the president leave Saenuri in order not to hinder the special investigation on the scandal.

The prosecution Wednesday raided nine locations related to the scandal, including offices of the Mir and K-Sports foundations, the headquarters of the Federation of Korean Industries, along with Choi’s personal residence and office.

A recent survey by the polling agency R&Search showed that Park’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, with just 25.8 percent saying that Park is doing well and 69.6 percent showing disapproval. The agency said support for Park is likely to dip even further, as the research was conducted before she even admitted to the allegations.

Student Councils of major universities across the country have declared a “state of emergency,” with more planning to follow suit.

This included Ewha Womans University -- suspected of granting various favors to Choi’s daughter -- and Park’s alma mater Sogang University.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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