World Bulletin / News Desk
South Korea’s most notorious private citizen of 2016 was hauled from behind bars to face independent investigators Saturday, marking another development in the massive scandal that led to this month’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
Choi Soon-sil -- a decades-long friend and apparent advisor to Park even before the latter took office in 2013 -- has been a figure of major public scrutiny since she was interrogated by state prosecutors at the end of October.
Along with several other aides, the pair are accused of influence-peddling through corporate donations, and Choi is additionally suspected of secretly steering state affairs despite not having a public position.
Although Choi appeared in court this week to deny the charges against her, she was summoned again following the start of a separate government-approved independent probe.
“This is aimed at confirming Choi's side of the story with regard to suspicions and allegations that have been revealed so far,” a member of the probe team was quoted as saying by local news agency Yonhap.
The 60-year-old showed up for questioning at the investigators’ office in Seoul shortly before 2 p.m. (0500GMT) -- a little after another suspect, Kim Chong, who is an ex-vice culture minister.
There was also no letting up on Christmas Eve among thousands of protesters as they gathered in freezing Seoul streets to maintain a recent tradition of weekend rallies against Park -- a phenomenon that has involved millions of citizens since media revelations began to intensify in October.
In a country that has embraced Christmas festivities -- and where nearly one in three people identifies as Christian -- the demonstrators’ determination is now partly aimed at the Constitutional Court, which has up to six months to either support Park’s parliamentary impeachment or reinstate her.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is acting president in the meantime.
Also Saturday, the justice ministry said it had submitted its “objective viewpoint” on the impeachment process.
Unlike 2004 when lawmakers failed to oust late former President Roh Moo-hyun, the ministry found no legal objection this time.