23 February 2019
Choi Soon-sil arrives for questioning at a prosecutor's office in Seoul on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters
Choi Soon-sil arrives for questioning at a prosecutor's office in Seoul on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Woman at center of South Korea political crisis arrested

The woman at the center of a political scandal in South Korea was held for a second day of questioning by prosecutors amid allegations she exerted inappropriate influence over state affairs.

Prosecutors have said they are investigating whether Choi Soon-sil used her friendship with President Park Geun-hye to gain access to classified documents that enabled her to influence government matters and benefited personally through non-profit foundations, Reuters reports.

The swirling scandal has sparked public anger and sent Park’s approval rating to a record low, with thousands of protestors gathered in Seoul on Saturday night calling for her to step down.

Park accepted the resignations of eight of her top aides over the weekend.

Choi, 60, arrived at the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday morning in handcuffs and a surgical mask and wearing a dark coat, escorted by correctional officers.

A prosecution official and her laywer said she had been detained late on Monday.

Although Choi was being questioned at another location, a man used a heavy construction excavator to smash the front entrance of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office building in Seoul, injuring a security guard, in an apparent act of protest against Choi. He was arrested by police.

According to Han Jeung-sub, a senior official at the Seocho Police Station, the 45-year-old man told police: “Choi Soon-sil said she had committed a crime she deserves to die for, so I came here to help her die.”

Park, 64, and Choi have known each other for decades, and Park said in a televised apology last week that her friend had helped her through difficult times.

Park’s father Park Chung-hee led South Korea for 18 years after seizing power in a military coup in 1961.

Park Geun-hye served as acting first lady after her mother was killed by an assassin trying to shoot her father, who was himself murdered by his disgruntled spy chief in 1979.

Park is in the fourth year of a five-year term and the crisis threatens to complicate policymaking during the lame-duck period that typically sets in towards the end of South Korea’s single-term presidency.

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