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Prosecutors quiz Choi Soon Sil, woman at core of Park's political crisis

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South Korean prosecutors on Monday questioned the woman at the centre of a political scandal that has shattered public confidence in President Park Geun Hye, with allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs.

[SEOUL] South Korean prosecutors on Monday questioned the woman at the centre of a political scandal that has shattered public confidence in President Park Geun Hye, with allegations of fraud and meddling in state affairs.

In the wake of mass street protests in Seoul and other cities to demand Park's resignation, Choi Soon Sil - who has denied any criminal wrongdoing - submitted to prosecutors in Seoul a day after flying back to the country from Germany.

Ms Park and Ms Choi have been close friends for 40 years. The precise nature of that friendship lies at the heart of the current scandal which has triggered a media frenzy in South Korea, with lurid reports of religious cults and shamanistic rituals.

The media has portrayed the 60-year-old Choi as a Rasputin-like figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Park and interfered in government policy despite holding no official post and having no security clearance.

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Suggestions that Ms Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents has exposed Park to public anger and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, pushed her approval ratings off a cliff.

A task force, led by the head of the powerful Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office, has been set up to investigate the leak of presidential documents and whether Ms Choi meddled in state affairs.

Ms Choi has also been accused of using her relationship with the president to coerce corporate donations to two non-profit foundations, and then siphoning off funds for her personal use."We hope that the various allegations can be thoroughly verified," presidential spokesman Jung Youn Kuk told reporters ahead of Choi's questioning.

Ms Choi is the daughter of a late shadowy religious leader and one-time Park mentor called Choi Tae Min, who was married six times, had multiple pseudonyms and set up his own cult-like group known as the Church of Eternal Life.

A public apology by Ms Park, in which she acknowledged seeking limited advice from Ms Choi, did little to assuage public outrage and she has struggled to draw a political line under the crisis.

Ms Park carried out a partial reshuffle of her key aides on Sunday and is considering calls from her ruling Saenuri Party to form a neutral multi-party cabinet to restore public trust and national unity.

AFP

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