South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye could be investigated as part of an ongoing inquiry into her friend, who is accused of exerting influence on government matters without holding an official position, Seoul’s newly nominated prime minister said on Thursday.
Park is facing the worst political crisis of her four-year presidency as South Korean prosecutors investigate her friend Choi Soon-sil on charges of meddling in state affairs and forcing companies to donate funds to non-profit foundations. Opposition lawmakers have demanded the investigation to be extended to Park.
"I believe we can conduct an investigation into Park. As she is still the head of state, however, we should be prudent about the process and methods. Everyone is equal before the law," said Kim Byong-joon, Seoul's newly nominated prime minister.
Under South Korea's constitution, the incumbent president may not be charged with a criminal offence except for insurrection or treason. However, the opposition argues that Park can be probed by prosecutors and then charged after leaving office.
Justice Minister Kim Hyun-Woong also told parliament that prosecutors could question Park, if the ongoing investigation required it.
South Korean prosecutors announced on Thursday that they have detained Park’s former aide An Chong-bum to look into allegations that he forced companies to donate funds to non-profit foundations using his connections with the president.
On Wednesday, Park replaced her prime minister and finance minister in a move which opposition parties described as a bid to divert attention from the political crisis.
Park Jie-won, leader of the opposition People’s Party vowed that his party will block the new prime minister’s nomination by wielding their combined parliamentary majority.
"We won't stand by such a move to turn around the current situation with the personnel change," he said.