South Korean President Park Geun-hye cannot be questioned by Tuesday as prosecutors have requested, her lawyer said, as she resists growing calls to resign over an influence scandal that has engulfed her administration.
Prosecutors describe Park and her secret confidante, Choi Soon-sil, as co-culprits in the scandal. They are accused of coercing top Seoul companies to donate more than $60 million to non-profit foundations, some of which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.
Choi was charged last week with coercion and abuse of power.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said that there were mounting allegations against the president, and that there was increasing pressure in favour of her impeachment.
“Opposition parties say they could launch a motion in the national assembly as early as Thursday. They would then follow with a vote on Friday. If that was successful, she would be stripped of her powers, awaiting a final verdict from the constitutional court,” our correspondent said.
The scandal has sparked nationwide fury, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to call for Park’s ousting.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans rallied for the fifth weekend in a row, calling for Park’s resignation. Organisers said the crowd totalled 1.5 million, while the police estimated the crowd at 260,000.
A parliamentary vote to impeach her could take place as early as this week as a growing number of ruling party politicians back the opposition-led campaign to oust the president.
Park earlier vowed to cooperate “sincerely” with the legal investigation but has rejected a series of requests in recent weeks by prosecutors to make herself available for questioning.
“We regret that we can’t cooperate with the request from prosecutors to hold face-to-face questioning on November 29,” Yoo Young-ha, Park’s lawyer, told reporters.
Seoul prosecutors gave Park an ultimatum last week, saying that Tuesday was the final deadline for questioning before a powerful independent team of investigators takes over the probe in December.
But Park – the first South Korean president to become a criminal suspect while in office – is too busy handling state affairs and preparing a legal defence against the mounting accusations, Yoo said.
It is not clear whether Park will cooperate with the new independent investigative team.
As a sitting president, Park cannot be charged with a criminal offence except for insurrection or treason, but she can be investigated and potentially charged once her term is over.
Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong offered his resignation last week as tension grew between the presidential office and the prosecutors.
Park on Monday accepted the resignation.
The president is also accused of letting Choi, daughter of a shady religious figure who was a longtime mentor to Park, meddle in state affairs including the nomination of top officials.