SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Investigators looking into the scandal surrounding impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye are seeking to detain the daughter of Park’s longtime confidante who faces criminal charges for allegedly extorting companies and manipulating state affairs.
After a request from the investigators, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it will soon order Yoora Chung, the daughter of jailed friend Choi Soon-sil, who is believed to be in Germany, to hand in her passport. Ministry’s spokesman Cho June-hyuck said the passport will be invalidated if Chung does not return it to prevent her from fleeing.
An official from the investigation team led by special prosecutor Park Young-soo earlier said it had obtained a warrant to detain Chung and had asked for help from German prosecutors in finding Chung and obtaining evidence, such as financial transaction and phone records. A German prosecution official told South Korean media that Germany will cooperate with South Korean investigators.
Choi is under suspicion that she exploited her presidential ties to get Chung, an equestrian athlete, into an elite university despite questionable qualifications. Lee Jae-yong, the scion of Samsung, South Korea’s largest business group, has apologized over the use of corporate funds to buy a horse for Chung, but denied that the group was seeking favors from Choi or Park’s administration.
Samsung is under suspicion that it sponsored Choi in an effort to win government backing for a controversial merger deal between two affiliates last year that allowed Lee to further promote a father-to-son transfer of leadership and corporate wealth at the group. Lee’s father, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, has been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack in 2014.
Samsung is one of the country’s major companies that gave a combined 77.4 billion won ($65 million) to two non-profit foundations Choi allegedly controlled and abused to expand her personal wealth.
South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament on Dec. 9 voted to impeach President Park, who state prosecutors accuse of colluding with Choi in extorting money and favors from the country’s largest companies and allowing Choi to interfere with government affairs from the shadows.
The impeachment suspended Park’s powers, and the country’s Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether she should permanently step down or be reinstated.
The independent team led by the special prosecutor began its investigation on Wednesday, which automatically stopped a probe by state prosecutors.
They began by raiding the offices of the National Pension Service, which supported the merger between the two Samsung affiliates despite the deal reducing the value of the fund’s stake in one of the companies by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars. Investigators also searched an office at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which governs the pension service.
South Korean lawmakers last month passed a law that allowed for a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal over concerns that state prosecutors’ close ties with presidential officials might inject bias into their probe.