South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, whose approval rating has fallen to a historically-low five percent, has been named a suspect in a criminal fraud investigation. The scandal, which has caused the resignation of ten senior aides to President Park, centers on the president’s childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Soon-sil is the daughter of a man the president has described as her mentor — Choi Tae-min. Tae-min has previously claimed to be a pastor in a pseudo-Christian sect. However, he has been described in U.S. diplomatic cables as a “Rasputin-like character,” and his church, a “shamanistic cult.” Tae-min befriended Park after claiming he was communicating with her recently assassinated mother in his dreams. Their relationship was dramatized in a Korean mini-series in the mid-1990s.
Public concern about the president’s relationship with Tae-min and Soon-sil has reached a fever pitch. Allegedly, Choi Soon-sil, who holds no formal advisory position, received copies of the president’s policy speeches in advance, and made edits to those speeches. In addition, two non-profits that she runs are alleged to have benefitted from her relationship with the president. It appears that the organizations boasted ties with the president in order to collect $70m in donations from South Korean corporations. Choi Soon-sil is also accused of using some of the donations for personal use, notably on her daughter’s dressage lessons.
Under current law, Park Geun-hye is immune from criminal indictment until she is out of office, about a year from now. But as a result of the announcement that Park is a suspect, the opposition party to her presidency has announced that it plans to begin impeachment proceedings unless she steps down.
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