S. Korean President Named As A Criminal Suspect In Cronyism Scandal : Parallels Prosecutors in South Korea will question President Park on allegations of corruption and cronyism. The move comes in the wake of massive protests calling for the president to step down.

S. Korean President Named As A Criminal Suspect In Cronyism Scandal

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A cronyism scandal surrounding South Korea's president is still gripping that country. Prosecutors announced over the weekend that the president is now a suspect in a criminal fraud investigation. And NPR's Elise Hu reports that that is new precedent for a sitting president.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: For the fourth weekend in a row, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans crowded the streets of central Seoul with a simple demand. Step down, they chanted in the direction of the presidential residence. But President Park Geun-hye, by all indications, isn't going anywhere on her own.

DAVID KANG: I think Park clearly thinks that she can ride it out.

HU: David Kang heads the Korea Studies Institute at the University of Southern California. He says she'll try to hang on since she has immunity from prosecution while she's in office. But the corruption scandal has driven her approval rating to 5 percent, the lowest in Korean presidential history.

KANG: And we'll see whether she can actually survive another 12 months or so.

HU: In a packed press conference Sunday, prosecutors raised the stakes. They named Park as a suspect in a criminal investigation, a first for a sitting president. Prosecutors believe Park was a co-conspirator in a scheme that allowed a close friend to enrich herself by using the power of the presidency to pressure South Korean companies to pony up millions in so-called donations.

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LEE YOUNG-RYEOL: (Speaking Korean).

HU: "Based on the evidence," said chief prosecutor Lee Young-ryeol, "the special investigation team concluded that the president colluded for most parts of her confidant's crimes." Park's spokesman in a statement denied the allegations and called them, quote, "unfair political attacks." But David Kang says the president has few allies left.

KANG: It's not clear even who her supporters would be within the party itself. So this is a totally unprecedented situation in Korean politics, which is used to chaos.

HU: Even so, lawmakers here haven't started impeachment proceedings against Park, who only has a year left in her term.

KANG: If she leaves - power vacuum. If she stays - power vacuum. It's not clear, no matter what happens, whether we can fix that in the near future.

HU: Part of the problem - impeachment proceedings might take the same amount of time as she has left in office. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

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