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South Korea prosecutors question former vice sports minister

Associated Press Associated Press 16/11/2016 By KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press
Satirical posters of South Korean President Park Geun-hye are seen on the street near the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. South Korean prosecutors want to question Park this week over suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes, an official said Sunday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) © The Associated Press Satirical posters of South Korean President Park Geun-hye are seen on the street near the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. South Korean prosecutors want to question Park this week over suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes, an official said Sunday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday questioned a former vice sports minister over an explosive political scandal that's threatening Park Geun-hye's presidency and could spill over to preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The summoning of Kim Chong came as prosecutors prepare to take their investigation to Park, who has apologized over suspicions that she allowed her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil to manipulate power from the shadows and exploit her presidential ties to amass an illicit fortune.

"I will sincerely attend to the prosecution's investigation," Kim told reporters before entering the prosecutors' office.

Kim has been suspected of swinging lucrative business deals to sports organizations controlled by Choi, who prosecutors have arrested and plan to indict by the end of the week, and also influencing the ministry's decision to financially support a winter sports foundation run by Choi's niece.

The media has also raised suspicions that Kim aided Choi in her alleged attempts to land Olympic construction deals through business partnerships.

Nussli, a Swiss company that reportedly had a business partnership with a company Choi owned in Germany, hasn't responded to multiple requests by The Associated Press seeking to confirm whether it had tried to win construction deals for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games with the help of Choi.

In a telephone conversation with the AP last week, Kim said that, under the direction of the president's office, he instructed Pyeongchang organizers sometime around March or April to review Nussli's design for temporary stands at one of the Olympic venues being built.

However, Kim said the design was merely one of the alternatives reviewed as the government looked for ways to reduce Olympic costs, and that it was immediately rejected by organizers because it wasn't economical enough. Kim also said he had no knowledge at the time of business ties between Nussli and Choi's company, The Blue K.

Kim resigned as deputy sports minister last month amid the allegations.

Prosecutors had initially planned to question Park as early as Wednesday, but in a televised news conference on Tuesday, Park's lawyer requested more time to prepare.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans rallied in Seoul calling for Park's resignation in what may have been the largest anti-government protest staged in the country since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago.

In an attempt to stabilize the situation, Park has said she would let the opposition-controlled parliament choose her prime minister. But opposition parties say her words are meaningless without specific promises about transferring much of her presidential powers to a new No. 2.

Opposition parties have yet to seriously push for Park's impeachment over fears of triggering a backlash from conservative voters and negatively impacting next year's presidential election, but they have been stepping up calls for her to resign.

Under South Korean law, the president has immunity from prosecution except in cases of treason, but she can be investigated.

Park has 15 months left in her term. If she steps down before the end of it, an election must be held within 60 days.

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