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Indie counsel tells acting president to decide on extension

Feb 21,2017
An independent counsel publicly pressured Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, Monday to quickly decide on his request to extend an investigation into President Park Geun-hye.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and his team have until next Tuesday to wrap up their investigation into Park, her associates and conglomerates over a corruption and abuse of power scandal. Last week the team asked Hwang, the prime minister serving as acting president since Park’s impeachment in December, to grant them a 30-day extension allowed by the law.

With eight days left before the initial deadline, assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul made a public demand to Hwang on Monday for a decision. “Our request was not answered yet,” Lee said. “If he replies to us as soon as possible, it will be helpful for us to use the remaining probe time more effectively.”

The team sent the request to Hwang on Thursday. Lee said last week the request was sent early in order to give Hwang time to consider the issue.

Since its probe was formally launched on Dec. 21, 2016, the independent counsel investigated suspected illicit dealings between Samsung Group and President Park through her friend, Choi Soon-sil; the alleged unfair admission of Choi’s daughter to Ewha Womans’ University; and the Blue House’s alleged operation of a blacklist of artists critical of the administration. The team, however, needs more time to go after other corruption and influence-peddling charges involving Choi and suspected political dealings between other conglomerates and Park.

After the independent counsel asked for an extension, Hwang said he will review the request. No formal response was made as of Monday.

As speculation ran high that Hwang will turn the request down, opposition lawmakers submitted a bill to revise the independent counsel law in order to lengthen the initial probe period from 70 days to 120 days. If the change is made before the current probe mandate expires, the team will have until mid-April to conclude its investigation.

The ruling Liberty Korea Party, however, said Monday that it doesn’t approve of an extension. The four liberal and conservative opposition parties have enough votes to ram the revision through the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Central District Court said it will hold a hearing this morning on the independent counsel’s request for a warrant to detain Woo Byung-woo, former civil affairs senior secretary of Park. Woo was questioned on Saturday on charges of having turned a blind eye to the influence over state affairs Park gave to her friend Choi. Following questioning, the independent counsel asked the court on Sunday to issue a detention warrant for Woo.

Woo was also accused of abusing his power, obstruction of justice and perjury. During the 19-hour interrogation, Woo reportedly denied all charges.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]