March 20, 2017 / 9:31 AM / 5 months ago

South Korea closes foundations at center of political scandal

South Korea's ousted leader Park Geun-hye greets her supporters as she arrives at her private home in Seoul, South Korea, March 12, 2017.Kim Kyung-Hoon

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Culture Ministry said on Monday it had canceled licenses for two non-profit foundations at the center of a political scandal that led to the ouster of President Park Geun-hye.

Park was thrown out of office on March 10 when the Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach her over accusations of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses to donate to the two foundations, Mir and K-Sports, set up to back the president’s policy initiatives.

Park is also accused of allowing Choi to exert inappropriate influence over state affairs. Park is set to appear before prosecutors for questioning for the first time on Tuesday.

Both Park and Choi have denied wrongdoing. Park has apologized for exercising poor judgment in her ties with Choi.

The Ministry Of Culture, which grants licenses to foundations, questioned the motives behind corporate donations to the two foundations, which had come to the attention of parliamentary investigators and prosecutors.

"It turned out corporations that funded the foundations made contributions not voluntarily for the sake of public good but out of pressure or in order to give bribes," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also quoted the ruling by the Constitutional Court, which found that the non-profit foundations were run for the sake of private interests under the control of Choi, Park's friend.

Park, 65, lost her presidential immunity when she was ousted from office and could now face criminal charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power.

Mir, or "dragon", was set up in October 2015 to promote cultural exchanges with other countries. K-Sports was set up in January last year and was involved in sports-related projects.

"Their swift liquidation serves public interests in a situation where nationwide and social confusion is serious because of them," the ministry said.

The ministry said it would begin the process to liquidate the foundations and would make a decision later on their assets, depending on the outcomes of related trials.

Both of the foundations declined to comment.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie

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