South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who stands accused of leaking official state documents to a close friend, has ordered 10 of her senior secretaries to step down in a bid to reshuffle her cabinet.
Park’s office issued the decree late on Friday hours before planned anti-government protests in the capital, Seoul, on Saturday.
Over the past few days, Park has been facing calls to shake up her office after she made a public apology for sharing “certain documents” with longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, who is alleged to have peddled influence over the leader.
In this October 25, 2016 photo, people watch a TV screen showing the news program about South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s apology, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul. (Photo by AP)
Park admitted that Choi, who holds no post in the South Korean government, advised her on speeches and public relations issues during the 2012 presidential election campaign and continued to assist her for a period after the 2013 inauguration.
There is also speculation that Choi meddled in government decisions on personnel and policy and exploited her ties with the president to misappropriate state funds for her personal use.
Local media and opposition parties accuse Choi of having forced big local conglomerates to donate millions of dollars to two foundations she had supposedly set up.
Choi’s lawyer Lee Gyeong-jae said on Friday that his client is currently in Germany and is willing to return to South Korea
if prosecutors summon her.
In an interview with a South Korean newspaper, Choi admitted receiving presidential documents in advance, but rejected accusations of intervening in state affairs or pressuring companies into donating to certain foundations.
The scandal has sapped Park’s support to an all-time low.
According to the latest nationwide survey by pollster Realmeter, Park’s popularity stands at 17.5 percent, with 43 percent of respondents demanding her resignation.
Should Park resign, it would inflame political uncertainty in Asia
’s fourth-largest economy.
In the last few days, prosecutors widened their investigation into the case by raiding the homes and offices belonging to Choi and some of her associates and also the offices of the Mir and K-Sports foundations.
Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, and Ahn Jong-bom, top secretary for economic affairs are among Park’s aides ordered to quit. Lee Won-jong, Park’s chief of staff, had also tendered his resignation on Wednesday.