Park Geun-hye Scandal in the Republic of Korea

Park Geun-hye Scandal: The history between the Park family and The Church of Eternal Life go back to the “Korean Rasputin” of Park Chung-hee’s regime

Today’s Close-Up – Park Falls from Grace: South Korea’s Political Scandal

This week the South Korean legislature will decide whether or not to impeach Park Geun-hye, head of a scandal-ridden regime that has left Seoul in upheaval for weeks and figurehead of a South Korean political dynasty that is no stranger to bloodshed, scandal, and hints of corruption. Park Geun-hye is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the famous dictator-President whose wife (Park Geun-hye’s mother) was assassinated live on a televised broadcast and who was later himself assassinated by his own head of security. Her father Park Chung-hee is often credited with helping to spur South Korea’s economic revival through harsh and brutal policies driven towards furthering economic development at any cost. Similar to the tumult of the early years of the Republic, the Park Geun-hye scandal has rocked Seoul for weeks with no end in sight.

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Her private life is mostly hidden from public view and, as is often noted in South Korean media, she is unmarried. In the wake of her mother’s assassination in 1974 by a man that could have acted on the direct orders of Pyongyang itself, Park Geun-hye assumed the mantle of the nation’s first lady. Upon her election in 2012, she said: “When I was just 22 years old, I assumed the unprecedented duties as our country’s acting first lady. That was because I had the responsibility to fill the void left by my mother’s death at the hands of a North Korean terrorist. National partition is a sorrow which touches all Koreans, but for me it brought to the fore unimaginable personal suffering.

Some 1.3mn march in Seoul to demand S. Korean President Park’s resignation from RT

When I thought I had lost all hope, however, I chose to rise above my agony and pain and I tried with all my heart to fulfil my duties when the eyes of Koreans were upon me.” Her father and the political dynasty that led her to the Blue House in Seoul is not without controversy or detractors – many decry the Korean Central Intelligence Agency’s actions during the Park years, some even going so far as to equate the brutality of Park Chunge-hee’s regime with that of Kim Il-sung’s in North Korea. Park has critisized her father’s regime but also praised it for its drive towards industrialization which many believe was instrumental in South Korea’s rise today as an economic power. The scandal that has enguled Park Geun-hye’s presidency involves longtime friend and mentor of 40 years, Choi Soon-sil.

The scandal involves allegations of bribery, cult activity, and the dissemination of classified information. Choi Soon-sil is accused of using her relationship with Park Geun-hye to extort large sums of money from South Korean companies as well as “donations” for a non-profit organization in her name. The background of the relationship between Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil go back all the way to Park’s mother’s assassination in 1974. The leader of a pseudo-Christian cult called The Church of Eternal Life Choi Tae-min befriended Park telling her that her mother’s spirit had guided this action. He became the young lady’s mentor while simultaneously enriching himself through the connection.

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Speculation in 1979 circled around the “Korean Rasputin” as Choi Tae-min became known for his influence on the presidential family and was only further cemented by the brutal assassination of Park Chung-hee that year. Critics of the Parks believe the negative influence of Choi Tae-min continued through his daughter’s close friendship with Park Geun-hye. The cult has housed numerous salacious stories among which include the presidential residence, the Blue House, being used for shamanistic ceremonies and rituals although much of the more interesting/bizarre tales coming out about the scandal are yet to be proven by credible sources. President Park is alleged to have been personally involved in the influence peddling and extortion, instructing Choi Soon-sil and two of Park’s presidential aides to get money for the launch of Choi’s foundations, according to documents submitted to the court. There are even claims that Choi Soon-sil used the presidential wardrobe budget to buy herself outfits.

The South Korean President’s former mentor was formally charged on November 20, 2016 with abuse of authority, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud alongside two former presidential advisers. When Choi Soon-sil was questioned in October 2016 she stated she had committed an unpardonable crime though her legal representative now claims that this is not an admission of guilt.

President Park admits to some lapses while in office but claims that Choi Soon-sil’s influence was absent once her presidential team was in place but witness testimony to the contrary contends that Choi received classified information long after President Park’s team was firmly ensconsced in Seoul. Though South Korea’s constitution does not allow for the prosecution of a sitting president, Park announced on November 29, 2016 that she would be willing to step down given the legislature moved to create a transitional team for the remaining 15 months of her presidency while opposition parties have called for her impeachment or “honorable resignation.”

It will require a two-thirds majority vote in the South Korean parliament to unseat the president, which is possible if enough of the president’s own MPs support the move. If they do, it will go to the Constitutional Court where, upon the agreement of six of nine judges agree, the President of South Korea can be removed from office. If the president is unseated or steps down, as hundreds of thousands of residents of Seoul are demanding, elections must be held within 60 days.


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