A. The Choi Soon-sil Scandal
Given how well the Choi Soon-sil scandal came to be known around the world (with a little help from yours truly,) only a brief summary of the scandal would suffice. Park Geun-hye turned out feeble in her mind, and outsourced much of her presidential duty to Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a shaman Choi Tae-min who became close with Park because he claimed he could speak with Park’s dead mother. In addition to running the country on behalf of the president, Choi Soon-sil used her power as the shadow president to collect bribes, siphon government budget and dole out favors. (For additional detail, please refer to three massive posts that I previously wrote about the scandal: one two three.)
|In a photo circa 1979, Choi Soon-sil, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak are|
sitting in a row at a function. The hold that Choi has had over Park
was an open secret within South Korea's political circles for decades. (source)
The most remarkable thing about the Choi scandal was just how many people already knew about her. As early as 2007 when Park Geun-hye first ran for president, the US Ambassador for Korea noted in a diplomatic cable: “Rumors are rife that the late pastor had complete control over Park's body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.” Facing off Park in the primaries, Lee Myung-bak made her association with the cult leader Choi Tae-min as a campaign attack point, noting how every organization in which Park Geun-hye was involved included relatives of Choi Tae-min.
There were even attempts to expose Choi Soon-sil in 2014, full two years before the scandal truly broke. Park Gwan-cheon, a presidential aide who was not connected to Choi, was conducting an internal investigation to check the rumors that someone with no official position with the Blue House was interfering with the presidential affairs. He discovered Choi and blew the whistle—to no avail, as the Blue House managed in short order to turn the issue into how the aide Park improperly leaked presidential records. During his investigation, the aide Park gave a statement to the prosecutors that would later become infamous: “Do you know the order of power in Korea? Choi Soon-sil is at the top, followed by [Choi’s husband] Jeong Yun-hoe, and the President is merely the third place.” The entire affair was like a strange and improbable gas leak: the stench was everywhere, and people kept lighting matches, but somehow, there was no fire.
The scandal did blow up in the end; it took a trigger that may as well have been carefully engineered to piss off the maximum number of Koreans. It was revealed that Choi’s daughter Jeong Yu-ra received a preferential treatment to gain admission to the prestigious Ewha Womans University—and nothing upsets Koreans more than college admissions chicanery. As the Blue House scrambled for a response, the final straw came: cable TV network JTBC discovered Choi Soon-sil’s Galaxy Tab that contained confidential presidential documents with Choi’s mark-ups. The next day, Park Geun-hye gave a press conference, admitting she gave the documents to Choi for her review. Park’s approval plummeted to 5 percent, rendering any support for her to a statistical error.
Meanwhile, a crowd of more than a million holding candles began filling up the Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul.
(More after the jump.)
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