A South Korean court approved arrest warrants early Sunday to formally detain two ex-aides to President Park Geun-hye over a scandal surrounding Park’s longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Ahn Jong-beom, 57, former senior presidential secretary on policy coordination, was formally arrested on charges of abuse of power, according to local media reports.
He has been suspected of pressuring conglomerates into donating tens of millions of U.S. dollars to two dubious nonprofit foundations presumably controlled by Choi.
During the court hearing, Ahn allegedly had said he would take responsibility for wrongly assisting the president. He will be in custody for as long as 20 days for detailed investigation into whether President Park was involved in or ordered the forceful donations.
Jeong Ho-seong, 47, former presidential secretary in charge of presidential documents, was also placed under a formal detention as he is accused of leaking confidential papers to Choi on a daily basis.
He will also be detained for 20 days for a probe into the president’s involvement. Prosecutors urgently arrested him on Thursday night for fear of flight and a possible attempt to destroy evidence.
Ahn and Jeong resigned last Sunday when Park accepted resignations of eight advisors. Jeong has been seen as one of so-called “three knobs of a door” that leads directly into the president due to his longtime aid since Park went into politics in 1998.
The former presidential advisors are suspected of helping Choi peddle undue influence for personal gains and interfere with state affairs behind the scenes by using her decades-long friendship with President Park.
In the televised national address on Friday, Park vowed to accept an investigation by prosecutors into herself if necessary, saying anyone found to have done something wrong would take responsibility for their wrongdoings.
During the address, Park made her second apology to the nation since the scandal came into focus last month, but her tearful apology failed to appease public angry as tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets nationwide on Saturday night to demand the president step down.
Views have spread that Choi, a 60-year-old woman who has no public position and security clearance, could not have committed wrongdoings without the president’s connivance and protection.
As Park accepted the direct investigation into herself, prosecutors are expected to probe into the president’s involvement in the scandal that put the first South Korean female leader into the biggest crisis since her inauguration in February 2013.
According to a weekly survey released on Friday, Park’s approval rating tumbled to 5 percent, the lowest for any South Korean president.
Park, who has 16 months left in office, had seen her support scores move from 30 percent to 50 percent in the first three years since her inauguration.