South Korea president's office block prosecutors' searches

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2017 11:13 PM
South Korea president's office block prosecutors' searches

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean officials Friday turned away prosecutors trying to search the president's mountainside compound, a confrontation that highlights the tensions of an investigation into a scandal that knocked President Park Geun-hye from power.

Prosecutors want to question Park and search her presidential Blue House for more information about events that led to her impeachment in December. Park has said she's willing to be questioned. But her office opposes any search and maintains that a law blocks searches in areas with military and other official secrets.

On Friday, a team of prosecutors and investigators attempted to enter the Blue House in downtown Seoul after receiving a court-issued search warrant. But the Blue House didn't let them in, saying it can only hand over documents to prosecutors, not give them entrance. It wasn't immediately clear whether the president's office produced the documents or whether ignoring the court's search warrant was legal.

South Korean television stations showed what they called members of the special prosecutors' team waiting inside cars at a parking lot within the Blue House compound.

Prosecution spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters Thursday that his team wants to search Blue House sites suspected of being linked to the scandal. He said the offices of presidential advisers and security staff could be the target of the search, but didn't say how prosecutors could get into the compound without Blue House cooperation.

The law cited by the Blue House prohibits searches on areas with state secrets without the approval from those in charge of those places. But the law still says that those in charge must approve searches unless they undermine national interests.

The Blue House used this law to reject a previous search attempt by prosecutors, but legal experts say its rejection must be strictly applied to searches of offices handling confidential information, not the whole compound.

State prosecutors tried to search the Blue House in October but ended up receiving Blue House documents outside the compound, before they handed those over to a team led by independent counsel Park Young-soo.

Park faces allegations that she let her confidante Choi Soon-sil manipulate government affairs and extort money from businesses, though Choi has never had any government post. Choi and several of Park's presidential advisers have been arrested on related charges.

The Constitutional Court is holding a trial to decide whether to formally unseat Park or restore her power. If Park is forced out, South Korea would hold an election to choose her successor within two months of the move.