South Korea: Park Geun-hye names new prime minister; opposition lashes out at move

Park appoints Kim Byong-joon, an official with the Roh Moo-hyun administration, as new prime minister.

South Korea: Park Geun-hye names new prime minister
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye attends the East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

South Korea's embattled President Park Geun-hye reshuffled cabinet and appointed a new prime minister, a move the opposition debunked as a tactic to divert attention from the ongoing controversy.

In a high level shakeup amid the scandal involving the president's close confidante, Park appointed Kim Byong-joon as the new prime minister. Kim had worked as a senior presidential secretary during former president Roh Moo-hyun's administration. Financial Services Commission chairman Yim Jong-yong was named the finance minister and deputy prime minister.

The opposition said it doesn't support the government reshuffle as it's a ploy to divert attention from the scandal involving one of the closest confidantes of the prime minister.

"This replacement of the prime minister and finance minister can't be happening without discussing it with the opposition ... We won't stand by such a move to turn around the current situation with the personnel change," said Park Jie-won, leader of the opposition People's Party, according to Reuters.

On Tuesday, South Korean investigators arrested Choi Soon Sil, the woman at the centre of the political scandal, using emergency powers.

Choi has been accused of fraud and meddling in state affairs, triggering widespread anger among South Koreans.

Last week Park expressed public apology for having shared the draft of a speech with her long-time friend. Choi is being investigated by prosecutors who are checking if she gained access to classified documents using her friendship with the president and made personal monetary gains through non-profit foundations.

According to South Korean media, Choi collected as much as 80 billion won ($92 million) in purported donations from businesses for her non-profit organisations. According to local media, Choi pressured businesses to donate money to the Mir and K-Sports foundations she controls.

Choi is the childhood friend of Park and the daughter of a close associate and supporter of Park's father, who ruled the country for 18 years in the 60s and 70s.