Choi Soon-sil, the South Korean president’s friend who is accused of being behind a massive corruption scandal in the country has been ordered to appear before a parliamentary hearing.
She has been charged over allegations she colluded with President Park Geun-hye to gain influence and money for herself.
Park Geu-hye, who denies corruption, faces an impeachment hearing on December 9.
Amid ongoing street protests, Park Geun-hye has said she will resign once parliament finds a way for her to do so smoothly.
The parliamentary hearing in Seoul is questioning the heads of some of South Korea’s biggest companies, including Samsung, Hyundai, SK, Lotte and LG.
All the companies gave large donations to foundations run by Choi Soon-sil. They are being quizzed over whether the donations were used to gain them favorable treatment by the government.
All have denied improper activity, though suggested there had been pressure to make donations.
One of the corporate bosses acknowledged that it was difficult for companies to say no to government requests.
“It’s a South Korean reality that if there is a government request, it is difficult for companies to decline,” said Huh Chang-soo, head of the GS Group and chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries lobby group.
Choi Soon-sil, who is in police detention along with two other aides of Park Geun-hye, has so far refused to attend the hearing as a witness, citing ill health.
However, on December 7 she and several other key witnesses, including members of her family, were ordered to appear.
“This hearing is being criticized as a Choi Soon-sil trial without Choi Soon-sil,” said the committee chairman Kim Sung-tae, according to the AFP.
Kim Sung-tae said the panel would “undertake all measures” to make her and other witnesses appear, before sending security officers to collect the group.
They could face jail or fines if they refuse.
The extraordinary scenes are being broadcast live on TV. The panel has no power to punish but its chairman has said the hearing is a place for apologies.
President Park Geun-hye has apologized multiple times to the public for allowing Choi Soon-sil inappropriate access to government decisions but has stopped short of resigning.