Special prosecutor Park Young-soo announces the results of an investigation of an influence-peddling scandal involving South Korean President Park Geun-hye. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
By Anna Fifield, Yoonjung Seo
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · ·
TOKYO - South Korea’s embattled president colluded with a confidante to extract $37 million from Samsung in return for granting favourable treatment to the corporate behemoth, special prosecutors concluded Monday after a 70-day investigation into the sensational corruption scandal that has been roiling the country.
The damning 101-page report comes just days before the Constitutional Court is set to announce whether it will uphold a parliamentary motion to impeach the president, Park Geun-hye, who has been suspended from duties for three months.
“The core purpose of this investigation was to shed light on longstanding collusion between private interests and the government, and to expose cases of abuse of state power for personal gain,” said Park Young-soo, the head of the special prosecution team.
But the president, who issued a 52-page rebuttal through her lawyer Monday, refused to be questioned by the special prosecutors over her role in the case or to appear before the Constitutional Court.
The special prosecutors -assigned to investigate the case because the state prosecution was embroiled in the scandal- were unable to complete their investigation because of her refusal to appear and because the prime minister who is doing her job refused to extend the time allowed for the inquiry.
“The investigation ended, accomplishing just half of what had to be done due to the limited period and unco-operative attitude of those subject to the investigation,” the head of the special prosecution team said.
Although a president can be questioned while in office, the prosecution could not compel her to appear. Nor can Park be indicted while she still holds the presidency, although prosecutors have listed a total of 13 charges that they would like to press against her, including abuse of power and receiving bribes.
She can, however, be indicted if impeached. The Constitutional Court, which set itself a deadline of March 13 to decide whether to uphold the National Assembly’s motion to impeach Park, will announce Tuesday the date it will deliver its verdict. South Korean media have reported that it will most likely be Friday.
Park, who is 65, is the daughter of former military strongman president Park Chung-hee, who oversaw South Korea’s transformation into an economic powerhouse by supporting conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai. Park is South Korea’s first woman president and, if she is impeached, would become the first to be forced out of office.
If she is impeached, a new presidential election will be held within 60 days. If she is exonerated, it will be held as scheduled in December.
Even without Park’s co-operation, the special prosecutors still found that the president colluded with her friend, Choi Soon-sil, to take a total of $37 million in bribery from Samsung in return for approving a merger that would help Lee Jae-yong, the third-generation head of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, maintain the family’s control.
The presidential Blue House instructed the head of the National Pension Service, a major Samsung shareholder, to vote for the merger, even though the fund lost $120 million in the deal, the report said.
The president also installed Choi’s associates into influential positions, including ambassador to Myanmar, where the confidante could make money, the report found.
It concluded that Park and Choi had 573 phone calls in a six-month period - between April and October 2016, when the scandal broke -on cellphones registered under other people’s names.
The report also implicates Park in the blacklisting of almost 9,500 left-leaning artists considered critical of her administration, meaning they would not be given government grants for their work.
The special investigation team handed over its investigation to the state prosecutors’ office Monday, which announced it would review them.