SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean authorities said on Tuesday they will proceed with steps to extradite Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of a central figure in a South Korean political scandal that has led to a parliamentary vote to impeach President Park Geun-hye.
Chung is being held in Denmark after police there arrested her on Sunday in the northern city of Aalborg. Denmark’s public prosecutor told Reuters on Tuesday it was still awaiting a formal request from Seoul to extradite Chung and that it would take up to 30 days to address the issue.
The prosecutor said on Monday Chung would remain in custody for four weeks after having been charged with committing economic crime in South Korea, but said on Tuesday that she had appealed against her detention to a higher court.
Chung is the 20-year-old daughter of Choi Soon-sil, a long-time friend of Park accused of colluding with the president to pressure businesses to contribute to non-profit organisations. Both have denied wrongdoing. Choi is in detention as she undergoes trial in Seoul.
“Chung has said she is willing to return to South Korea in three days if she is set free upon entry, which the government has declined to accept,” South Korea’s special prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.
It added there was a chance Chung, an equestrian competitor who trained in Germany, may choose to return to South Korea voluntarily.
The scandal has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Seoul for weekly demonstrations and could result in Park, 64, becoming the first democratically elected South Korean leader to leave office early.
Park was impeached by parliament late last year, a decision that must be upheld or rejected by the Constitutional Court. Arguments were set to begin on Tuesday in a court process that could take several months.
Chung’s state-appointed lawyer in Denmark, Jan Schneider, said he was likely to appeal any decision to extradite her.
“I think it is disappointing Danish police and the Danish court has been drawn into a South Korean political conflict, which has nothing to do with Denmark,” he said outside the courthouse in Aalborg in video carried by Danish TV.
Chung told Korean reporters at the courthouse she had come to Denmark in late September and denied having knowledge about her mother’s business transactions, and said the last time she saw Park was when she was in elementary school.
Denmark’s public prosecutor told Reuters on Tuesday that the extradition process may drag on for more than 30 days, because Chung can appeal a decision to extradite her to the courts.
“I have been advising her, as her lawyer, that it would be better for her to be investigated in South Korea,” Chung’s Korean lawyer Lee Kyung-jae told Yonhap News Agency.
“She is most concerned about where her baby will be if she comes back to South Korea and is detained,” said Lee, who also represents Chung’s mother, Choi.
Chung has an infant son who was among those with her when she was detained.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach Lee.
South Korean authorities have sought Chung for alleged criminal interference related to her academic record and other unspecified charges.
As part of their investigation, South Korean prosecutors are trying to ascertain whether Samsung Electronics sought favours from Choi and Park in return for funding some of their initiatives. An element of the investigation has been Samsung’s sponsorship of Chung’s riding career.
None of Samsung’s officials have been accused of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s ambassador to Denmark delivered a letter of intent to Chung to cancel her passport, Yonhap reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
As a result, Chung’s passport will no longer be valid after Jan. 10, Yonhap said.
In addition to cancelling her passport, South Korean authorities had requested Interpol place Chung on their red notice list. The request was put on hold, South Korea’s police agency said on Tuesday, as Chung has been detained.
Reporting by Christine Kim; additional reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Michael Perry, Tony Munroe and Alison Williams