|Main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairwoman Rep. Choo Mi-ae speaks during a rally of DPK lawmakers at the National Assembly, Monday, to condemn acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn's refusal to extend a probe into the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. / Yonhap|
By Kim Rahn
Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is facing mounting criticism that he is acting like President Park Geun-hye's "bodyguard" by refusing to extend an independent counsel's investigation into the presidential corruption scandal.
Earlier he also refused to let the team search Cheong Wa Dae.
Opposition parties and civic groups claim such acts are beyond his authority as acting president, saying he is following his political interests rather than principles and the law.
On Monday, Hwang refused the independent counsel-led team's request to extend the probe period by one month. According to the law, the team has 70 days and can request a 30-day extension if it has more to investigate. The president can approve or refuse it and, because Park was impeached, the decision was in Hwang's hands.
The probe team has not questioned Park face-to-face, which the team said was a must to verify the truth in the scandal surrounding the President and her confidant Choi Soon-sil.
The team also was not allowed to search the presidential office, and its request to Hwang for cooperation in the search was also rejected.
Investigations into some allegations have not finished, including one into former presidential secretary Woo Byung-woo's alleged dereliction of duty, a dozen conglomerates' alleged bribery, and Choi's alleged illegal amassing of wealth.
The refusal was a rare decision. In 11 previous cases where an independent counsel-led investigation was launched, probe teams requested a mandate extension in nine cases. The requests were granted in seven cases, with the remaining two rejected for political reasons.
Opposition parties say Hwang's refusal was out of loyalty to Park who gave him the prime ministerial position and justice minister job. His refusal may also be based on a potential presidential bid, as he is regarded as the strongest contender from the conservative bloc.
But the prime minister will face strong criticism for preventing the full truth from being revealed in the corruption scandal.
"The acting president has no authority to refuse a mandate extension, which is usually allowed if basic requirements are met," said People's Party floor leader Joo Seung-yong.
"It was not something he approves of because he likes it or he doesn't approve because he doesn't like it. (By refusing the extension) Hwang repaid Park's kindness of appointing him as justice minister and promoting him to prime minister, and admitted he was an accomplice in the failure of the Park administration."
Bareun Party spokesman Oh Shin-hwan said, "(The refusal) was a dictatorial decision that ignored the people's wish for clarification of the truth. A former jurist himself, Hwang ignored the rule of law. If this is groundwork for his presidential bid, the people will not sit idle."
Park Soo-hyun, spokesman for South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung, said, "Hwang is the one who should take responsibility for the scandal, but he made a decision that is loyal only to the President. He shouldn't do that if he has any conscience."