March 22, 2017 7:31 am JST

Park maintains innocence in 14-hour grilling

Prosecutors could still move to arrest ousted South Korean leader

KOICHI KATO, Nikkei staff writer

SEOUL -- Former President Park Geun-hye reportedly painted herself as innocent in questioning Tuesday over the corruption scandal that drove her from office.

Park was grilled at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office from shortly after 9:30 a.m. to around 11:40 p.m., including meals and breaks. She denied all allegations against her, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

The interrogation was not recorded, since Park did not consent. Prosecutors planned to release her after cross-checking her statements.

Flag-waving Park supporters surrounding the office shouted words of encouragement, while opponents demanded her arrest. Security around the building was beefed up.

Park and other government officials allegedly pressured South Korean corporations to donate 77.4 billion won ($69 million) to two foundations linked to confidante Choi Soon-sil. Park is also accused of helping Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong tighten his grip on the group in exchange for money.

Lee, Choi and administration officials have been arrested or indicted in connection with the bribery scandal.

Park fully answered the questions, according to a source close to the prosecutors. The office previously questioned SK and Lotte executives held as material witnesses. Investigators may have been looking into whether Park illegally accepted funds from groups besides Samsung.

Prosecutors are expected to decide soon whether to seek an arrest warrant. But they are now focused on the questioning, according to a source close to the office. Some speculate that prosecutors could move to indict Park in early April.

An overwhelming 65.8% of respondents wanted Park arrested in a poll last Thursday by broadcaster YTN. Another 20.5% called for an indictment without an arrest.

The political opposition is split on how to handle Park. A spokesperson for the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said she should be detained if necessary, calling her "no different" from arrested ex-aides.

But Yoo Seong-min, a lawmaker in the conservative Bareun Party, advised Monday against physically detaining Park, citing the dignity of a former leader and the country as a whole.

The debate comes only weeks before the May 9 presidential election triggered by Park's ouster. Reform candidates now hold an edge in the race. Depending on the developments, conservatives could come under more intense fire and plans by underdogs to form cross-party coalitions with the right could be complicated.

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