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Asia

Decision to end special investigation into South Korea President 'very regrettable'

South Korea's acting president faces calls for impeachment after refusing to extend a corruption probe into his predecessor. Special investigators want an extension and the chance to question Park Geun-hye in person.

South Korea's acting president denied an extension for special investigators probing an explosive corruption scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye and her alleged associates. The announcement on Monday sparked heavy criticism.

The special investigation team had been seeking a 30-day extension on its Tuesday deadline and the chance to question Park directly. They will now have to decide on Tuesday whether to indict the heir to the Samsung empire,  Lee Jae-Yong, and multiple other suspects.

The special prosecutors were probing a wide range of allegations, including claims that Samsung bribed Park confidante Choi Soon-Sil to win state approval for a controversial merger of two of its units.

South Korean acting Constitutional Court's Chief Judge Lee Jung-mi (C) attends the final hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye at the Constitutional Court in Seoul (Reuters/A. Young-joon)

South Korea's Constitutional Court will decide in March whether to approve the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye

Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn, who is standing in for Park while the Constitutional Court decides whether to approve Park's impeachment, decided the inquiry should return to ordinary prosecutors.

His spokesman told a televised news conference that a longer investigation could sway a presidential election that would arise should the Constitutional Court decide to approve Park's impeachment in a March decision.

Hwang's office said it rejected the request as the team has already indicted key figures implicated in the scandal.

Now facing impeachment himself

Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the investigation team, described Hwang's decision as "very regrettable."

"The special prosecutor's office regrets that the in-person questioning of the president could not happen and is deeply disappointed by the outcome," Lee said.

South Korea's two main opposition parties said they would seek the impeachment of Hwang.

The main opposition Democratic party called the acting president's decision "a historic atrocity that dumped cold water on people's expectations."

His decision showed he's trying "to become Park's shield to protect her and her associates," the party's leader, Choo Mi-ae, said.

Faced with weeks of massive street protests, Park had approved the investigation led by independent counsel Park Young-soo. In December, she was impeached by parliament over allegations she colluded with her longtime confidante to extort money from companies.

The team arrested many high-profile figures, including former Park administration officials. Park avoided direct investigation because of a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.

In a statement released on Monday Park told the Constitutional Court that she did not advance her own interests while in office. Park also reiterated that she also never received improper requests from Samsung Group or made wrongful demands of the conglomerate.

aw/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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