South Korea’s first ever female President, Park Geun-hye was the first-born to Korea’s third President, Park Chung-Hee, a.k.a the military dictator in Korean history. As the daughter of the Korean President, Park Geun-hye grew up with privileges but on the other hand, she didn’t get to experience what you’d consider a normal childhood.
Circumstances got extremely harsh for her when both of her parents got assassinated. (Her mother was shot by a North Korean sympathizer in 1974, while her father was killed by his intelligence chief in 1979) Thus, it is a widely known fact that the current President grew up with only few people to trust and call close friends.
Now, one of those friends whom Park foolishly relied to take care of excessive affairs has not only put the presidency in serious jeopardy but became the main factor for the President’s current downfall.
Since late October, South Korea has been booming and rocking with countless crowds of demonstrators demanding the President to resign.
The previous weekend, organizers said over one million people gathered in Seoul alone, (and various cities around the country) as the largest demonstration that South Korea has ever had since the pro-democracy movement in the ‘80s.
One event management claimed to have gathered over 1.9 million participants in favor of Park‘s ouster.
It was announced today on November of 29th 2016, by President Park herself that she will relinquish her rights as South Korea’s President and let the Parliament decide on the time of her resignation and overall the rest of her political career.
For this article, I will cover some of the episodes that led to Korea’s biggest political scandal in modern history.
Who is Choi Soon-sil?
This woman aged 60, who goes by the name – Choi Soon-sil – and various other names, has been convicted to be the primary person (along with her siblings) responsible for making vital decisions during Park’s administration, masterminding governmental and foreign policy, extorting millions of dollars from corporations and conveniently bending the law to suit herself and her family members.
Choi, who has known the President for 40 something years, even had special access to over a hundred confidential policy documents and is also been reported to have her own set of advisers who had their hands on critical government decisions – which includes the appointment of cabinet ministers – and shutting down the Kaesong industrial park after North Korea took nuclear tests, earlier this year.
Mind you, Choi is an ordinary citizen. Not in any way a politician or someone who was hired to work at the governmental office. By normal standards, she should never have been allowed to interfere with any presidential decisions or responsibilities. As later revealed, who would have thought she would have gone as far as editing presidential speeches?
When local news media first reported allegations that Ms. Choi had edited the president’s speeches; the President’s office initial reaction was that it was “absurd” and “untrue.”
However, after the cable channel JTBC reported they had obtained a tablet computer that belonged to Choi Soon-sil that included drafts of 44 speeches and speeches that President had given as a presidential candidate and later as president. The computer’s log indicated that Choi had received the files hours or days before the President delivered the speeches to the public.
Overseeing some of the speeches was the only charge that Choi admitted to have done, she has so far denied the extortion of funds and etc.
In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, the President also acknowledged that she had let Ms. Choi edit some of her speeches.
So this is how this scandal shook the nation and became the main story in all the media outlets in Korea, in late October of 2016.
Choi Soon-sil was staying in Germany, where she had purchased three houses, in order to primarily let her daughter, who is a dressage rider to train and reside in. Her daughter, Soora Chung also caused a stir since it was revealed in the media that Choi bribed a university to alter their admission criteria especially for her daughter to enroll in, although she was not eligible to attend.
Earlier this month, her admission was cancelled because the media had caught on that Choi’s family was getting another free ride. This resulted in the president of Ewha Womans University resigning amid accusations that she had given Choi’s daughter, a favorable treatment.
On the October 30, Choi returned to Korea sooner than people expected, because she had prior told a journalist that she would not come home to face investigators. However, she was not arrested until 30 plus hours after her arrival.
For more than a whole day, she was free to visit banks and attend to her personal (or otherwise) businesses. Some sources claimed she couldn’t hide out in Germany any longer because she was already in trouble with the police for laundering money there.
On November 20, the prosecutors raided the offices linked to Choi, and she was charged for intervening with state affairs, charging conglomerates to donate millions of dollars to foundations and businesses she owned or linked to. (Choi’s niece has recently been arrested for similar illegal activities as her aunt.) Prosecutors stated the partial of the extorted sum was spent on the Choi clan’s extravagant lifestyles.
Choi is the daughter of a Korean Shamanistic cult leader, Choi Tae-min, who was the founder of a cult sect called the Church of Eternal Life.
Mr. Choi was once a Buddhist monk; then later converted to Roman Catholicism and is said to declare himself a Maitreya, or a “Future Buddha.”
This situation gets more bizarre because Choi Tae-min is a religious cult figure;
Choi was a mentor for President Park Chung-Hee and remained close to him until he was assassinated in 1979. Kim Jae-gyu, the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Unit, claimed that his motive for the killing was Park’s inability to rid of Choi’s manipulation.
According to a report by the Korean intelligence agency from that era, and later published by a South Korean newsmagazine in 2007, Mr. Choi is said to have approached Park Geun-hye by telling her that he has been having dreams about her deceased mother, and that she had asked him to help her daughter.
The relationship from then onwards have been the subject of rumors that they were in an affair or had a child together. When Choi first befriended Park, he was at the time forty years her senior, right after her mother was assassinated in mid 70s. He soon acted out as a mentor for Park as he did to her father and aided her in organizing a pro-government volunteer group, Movement for a New Mind, in which Choi Soon-sil was also a youth leader.
In a 2007, through WikiLeaks, the American Embassy in Seoul reported that there is circulation of rumors that Choi Tae-min “had complete control over Park’s body and soul and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.”
During his lifetime, Choi Tae-min is said to have used seven different names, married six times and used his connection to Park to his advantage until the time of his death, in 1994.
But the gossip about the relationship (although it was always denied by the Park) has not ceased even after Choi’s death.
As foreseen, Choi Sun-sil was charged with extortion and abuse of power this past weekend, while Park’s two former aides were indicted on charges of pressuring companies to donate to foundations controlled by Choi.
President Park has apologized more than twice on national TV for her ties to Choi but failed to directly address the allegations or answered any questions by the press. It seemed Park was denying all allegations she was accused of and that she was not fully aware of what Choi was up to all this time.
She even refused to be investigated after initially announcing publicly she will do everything that is asked of her, in terms of the investigation. This outraged the Korean citizens and when Park publicly acknowledged her close ties with Choi, her approval ratings dropped to the lowest ever 5%.
President Park raised controversy by dismissing the key members of her office and even went as far as dismissing the Prime minister of South Korea, Hwang Kyo-ahn via a text message
One of the questions, the President cannot or will not give answer till this very day is, what she was doing during the seven hours” in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster that occurred on April 16, 2014.
Suspicions linked to Choi with the unknown whereabouts of Park, some rumors even claim that the accident was related to a sacrificial ritual and the victims were actually “offerings.”
Because Choi Tae-min died in 1994 on the 21st day of the third month, according to the lunar calendar, the 20th anniversary of his death was April 14, 2014, on the solar calendar. Family members had to perform a rite marking the 20th anniversary of Choi’s death, but Sunday was not appropriate, so the rite was performed on April 16th.
Some claim Park was in the hospital getting skin or plastic surgery even though it might not be easy to get that proof from the hospital.
Because the President was clearly absent during the first seven hours of the ferry’s sinking, (which ended up as a disaster of killing more than 300 passengers on board) people have been demanding answers.
Her spokesperson just kept repeating that the President was in her office working. This prompted public outrage for the truth. If she was working, then why couldn’t she have been giving out orders during the seven hours like any presidents would do?
The family members of the ferry disaster victims and civic group members held a press conference, demanding the President’s resignation since she is seen as responsible for the government’s belated response during the hours of the accident. They urged the government to unveil the truth about the President’s whereabouts during the first seven hours of the accident.
As the citizens gathered in front of Seoul’s City Hall and protested into the night every week, with candles lit in their hands since the very week scandal broke out, it was getting to the point where nobody could deny or ignore this outcry.
And the people have every right to be there to demonstrate because this scandal was not just a simple incident about a woman called Choi acting greedy and abusing her power in the name of politics.
Due to the outcome of this outrageous scandal, the Korean stock prices have hit a low, the nation’s financial state has vastly deteriorated, and not to mention the negative effect this had on national security.
Even the officials who supported the President through and through feel betrayed and no longer support her, while many of them sincerely advised the President it’s best to step down when she can.
This very day on Tuesday 29th November, the President made a public speech addressed to the nation. She began by saying that it has been an honor to serve the country for the past four years and that she will let the National Assembly decide the fate of her presidency.
This was her third speech since the Choi scandal.
She stated, “I will lay my course of action and the rest of my presidential term to the decision of the National Assembly. If the political circles suggest a way I may hand over authority in order to minimize chaos in state affairs, I shall step down from the presidency according to the given timeline through legal procedure. “
Park apologized for the inconveniences the recent scandal has caused but seemed to imply that she was not the sole person responsible for the scandalous events. She continued on to stress the fact that she did not take any personal advantage for herself during her presidential administration. But that she was at fault for not “properly managing” the people around her.
This President’s speech took place just days before the plans ahead of the parliament’s vote on a presidential impeachment bill and it must have pressured her since the chances of her getting impeached is very likely at this stage.
The President continued to state, “I have now laid down everything. All I hope is for Korea to get free from this state of chaos and back on track. Since I started politics in 1998 and until now as president; I made utmost effort to work for the nation and the people. I did not work for my personal interests but only worked for what I believed to be for the country.”
President Park concluded by saying, since she has announced something that was bearing heavy on her heart, she will be withdrawing without taking additional questions from the press.
We cannot predict at this point how the ending of the last month of 2016 will be, in terms of politics along with the various chaotic incidences that has been occurring in Korea. But I hope we are all in the same mind and desire when it comes to wishing the best for everybody, as citizens of this world.
Here is a note to wish everyone a very merry “Season’s Greetings” and hope that we can all get through the end of this year the best way we can. And we really look forward to the year of 2017 which is just a month away…
Thank you very much for reading.
— J. Chung.