South Korea: Scandal, Furor, Corruption Reach Inside Presidency
Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a cult leader and a longtime friend to President Park Geun-hye, is a mysterious woman whose influence reached deep into the Presidential mansion and is said to have guided many of the President’s public relations efforts.
But as the political furor has grown, the rumors have grown, permeating South Korean society.
By Friday, Choi had been accused of swaying the careers of pop singers to helping craft North Korea policy to influencing Seoul’s multi-billion-dollar purchase of American F-35 fighter jets.
With rumors flying, many people have issued statements denying links to Choi’s family or distancing themselves from the scandal.
The country’s has a long traditions of official corruption and influence-peddling that has bred deep public cynicism. This is a country where one former President was ordered to repay more than $200-M he had taken in bribes, and another killed himself in Y 2009 amid a bribery investigation by throwing himself off a cliff.
It is unlikely that Choi really had much power. But there are signs that she did more than edit speeches and handle public relations issues.
Choi was arrested a few days ago, with prosecutors saying they are investigating accusations that she and a former presidential aide pressured prominent Korean companies to give $70-M to 2 foundations that she controlled.
South Korea’s presidential mansion is commonly known as the Blue House.
With her popularity ratings among the lowest in South Korean history, Park has tried to stabilize the situation by firing 8 aides and nominating 3 new top Cabinet officials, including the prime minister.
Park’s opponents smell blood.
Already weakened by the country’s less-than-stellar economy and her aloof style of governing, they are unlikely to back down.
While her opponents are not expected to try to force her to step down, the opposition is not ready yet for elections, and constitutional term limits mean she has less than 18 months left in office, they could leave her badly weakened politically.
Friday, Park issued a remarkably abject apology in a televised speech, expressing shame over the way her friendship with Choi had spilled into the government.
She also reminded South Korea of the sacrifices she has endured. Her father, dictator Park Chung-hee, was killed by his own spy chief in Y 1979.
Five years earlier, her mother had been killed during an assassination attempt on her father’s life. Single and estranged from her siblings, Park said Friday that the loneliness of power had pushed her to spend more time with Choi.
“Living alone, it was difficult to find people who could help me with the personal things I needed to get done, so I began receiving help from Choi Soon-sil with whom I had a long relationship,” she said.
One speech will not end this kind of turmoil.
Tens of thousands of South Koreans are expected to rally Saturday against the President.
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