South Korean prosecutors requested an arrest warrant Wednesday for a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye over allegations of influence-peddling and other activities that have triggered a huge political scandal that threatens Park’s leadership.
The president acknowledged last week Choi had edited some of her speeches and provided public relations help, despite having no official government position. South Korean media speculate Choi likely played a much larger role in government affairs.
After two days questioning Choi, a Seoul prosecutors’ office on Wednesday asked the Seoul Central District Court to approve an arrest warrant for her, according to court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan. He said the court will review the request Thursday.
Earlier in the day Park replaced her prime minister and two other top officials in a bid to restore public confidence amid the scandal that already forced her to fire eight presidential aides.
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party immediately criticized Park’s reshuffles, saying it’s an attempt to divert attention from the scandal. It said Park must reveal the whole truth about her ties with Choi and the scandal.
South Korea’s executive power is concentrated in the president, but the prime minister, the No.2 government post, leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.
Choi has been close to Park since Choi’s father, the leader of a religious cult, gained Park’s trust by reportedly convincing her that he could communicate with her assassinated mother. Choi’s father denied that in a 1990 media interview.
Park has already long been criticized for an aloof manner and for relying on only a few longtime confidantes. That she may have been outsourcing sensitive decisions to someone outside of government, and someone connected with a murky, lurid backstory, has incensed many.
Latest public surveys put Park’s approval rating at about 10 percent, the lowest since her inauguration in February 2013. The surveys showed about half of respondents think Park should resign or be impeached by lawmakers.