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SKorean investigators detain ex-health minister

Associated Press logo Associated Press 28/12/2016 By KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press
In this Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 photo, former South Korean Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo, center, arrives at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean investigators detained Moon on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, as they expand their inquiry into a corruption scandal surrounding impeached President Park Geun-hye. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP) © The Associated Press In this Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 photo, former South Korean Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo, center, arrives at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean investigators detained Moon on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, as they expand their inquiry into a corruption scandal surrounding impeached President Park Geun-hye. (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean investigators on Wednesday detained the country's former health minister as they expand their inquiry into a corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-hye.

The special prosecution team now has 48 hours to decide whether to request a formal arrest warrant for Moon Hyung-pyo. Moon faces allegations that he pressured the National Pension Service to support a controversial merger deal between two Samsung affiliates last year, even though the fund's stake in one of the companies lost an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in value.

Investigators also summoned Kim Sang-ryul, Park's former senior secretary for education and culture, to look into allegations the presidential office kept a "blacklist" of cultural figures deemed as unfriendly to Park's administration and denied them state support.

South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament on Dec. 9 voted to impeach Park over allegations that she colluded with a longtime confidante to extort money and favors from the country's largest companies and allow the friend to manipulate government affairs from the shadows.

Samsung, the country's largest business group, is under suspicion that it sponsored Park's jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, to win government backing for the merger that helped Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong promote a father-to-son transfer of leadership and boost corporate wealth at the group.

Samsung is one of the country's major business conglomerates that gave a combined 77.4 billion won ($64 million) to two non-profit foundations Choi allegedly controlled and abused to expand her personal wealth.

Lee has apologized over the use of corporate funds to buy a horse for Choi's daughter, Yoora Chung, an equestrian athlete, but denied that Samsung sought favors from Choi or Park's administration. There are also questions as to why Samsung financially sponsored a winter sports center run by Choi's niece, who was also arrested. Investigators are seeking to find and detain Chung, who is believed to be staying in Germany.

South Korea's Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether Park should permanently step down or be reinstated. Her presidential powers are suspended until then, with the prime minister serving as the government caretaker.

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