South Korea: Park Geun-hye apologises, promises cooperation in graft probe

Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye apologised to the country today as she arrived at prosecutors' offices for questioning as a criminal suspect in a corruption scandal that has gripped the country for months.

"I deeply apologize to the citizens, I will fully cooperate with the investigation", she said outside the prosecutors' offices in Seoul.

Park declined to have her questioning recorded by video camera, prosecutors said.

It was a dramatic fall for Park, a daughter of slain dictator Park Chung-hee, who was elected as the country's first female president in late 2012 amid a wave of support from conservatives who remembered her father as a hero who pulled the country up from poverty despite his suppression of civil rights. Stepping out of her home's black metal gate, Park did not address to her supporters before getting into a black sedan, which followed a motorcade of police motorcycles to the prosecution office.

She is now facing charges of abuse of power and fraud for allegedly using her relationship with Park to force major South Korean companies to donate millions of dollars to two foundations believed to have been set up by Choi.

Earlier, media saw Park's hairdresser arriving at her home.

On the day of the top court's ruling for the impeachment, North Korea's media released the news in a short dispatch in an unusually swift manner.

"Less than one year away from the end of her (five-year) term, Park was dismissed from her presidency and will face investigations as an ordinary criminal", the KCNA reported on March 10.

"She must be miserable and may want to kill herself - it's so heart-breaking", said Park Sung-hye, a supporter who stood vigil outside her home overnight to see her off.

"I am sorry to the people", she told reporters outside.

The friend, Choi Soon-Sil, is accused of using her presidential ties to force local firms including Samsung to "donate" almost $70 million to non-profit foundations she allegedly used for personal gain.

Ms Park, 65, is alleged to have been personally involved in this, and to have given Ms Choi unacceptable levels of access to official documents.

The scandal has engulfed the country's largest company, Samsung, whose de facto leader Lee Jae-yong was arrested in February on charges of bribery and embezzlement.

Opposition parties jostling for advantage ahead of a snap election May 9 to replace Park have called on her to reveal the truth.

The Bareun Party said it was regretful that Park failed to offer a honest apology. Her power had been suspended since she was impeached by parliament in December. Park was first received by Roh Seung-kwon, deputy head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, for about 10 minutes, during which they had tea, before the questioning began. The Justice Party also said Park disappointed the public once again with her "insincere" remarks and that the prosecution must not go easy on her.

"We are creating a questionnaire", a senior prosecutor said on Friday, adding it is yet unclear how long it will take to complete the inquiry.

  • Leroy Wright