S Korea’s ‘fe­male Rasputin’ re­turns to tackle scan­dal ‘Erup­tion of spec­u­la­tion that goes be­yond fan­tasy’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The wo­man at the heart of a lurid po­lit­i­cal scan­dal en­gulf­ing South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye re­turned to the coun­try yes­ter­day to face ac­cu­sa­tions of in­flu­ence-ped­dling and med­dling in state af­fairs. With just over a year left to run, Park’s pres­i­dency has un­rav­eled over shock­ing rev­e­la­tions that she dis­cussed and sought ad­vice on govern­ment pol­icy from Choi Soon-Sil, a close per­sonal friend with no of­fi­cial po­si­tion and no se­cu­rity clear­ance. Choi, who has been holed up in Ger­many since early Septem­ber flew into Seoul yes­ter­day morn­ing on a flight from London, her lawyer Lee KyungJae told re­porters.

“Choi told me she will cooperate with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ex­pressed her deep apol­ogy to the peo­ple for let­ting them down and caus­ing them frus­tra­tion,” Lee said. As well as a pub­lic up­roar over her re­la­tion­ship with, and ap­par­ent con­trol over Park, she faces charges of us­ing her links with the pres­i­dent to strong-arm ma­jor com­pa­nies like Sam­sung into do­nat­ing large sums to two non-profit foun­da­tions she set up. Choi has spo­ken with prose­cu­tors to sched­ule her ques­tion­ing, Lee said.

The past week has a seen a daily diet of in­creas­ingly sen­sa­tional me­dia re­ports re­gard­ing Choi, the 60-year-old daugh­ter of a shad­owy re­li­gious leader and one-time Park men­tor. In­vok­ing a lurid back-story of re­li­gious cults, shaman­ist ri­tu­als and cor­rup­tion, the re­ports have por­trayed Choi as a Rasputin-like fig­ure whose in­flu­ence ex­tended to vet­ting pres­i­den­tial speeches and ad­vis­ing on key ap­point­ments and pol­icy is­sues.

“As her at­tor­ney, I think the case must be thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated and the truth be told to pre­vent any fur­ther erup­tion of spec­u­la­tion that goes be­yond fan­tasy,” Lee said. The South Korean leader yes­ter­day car­ried out a par­tial reshuf­fle of her key aides af­ter or­der­ing her sec­re­tar­iat to hand in their res­ig­na­tions ear­lier this week. Park ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tions sub­mit­ted by her Chief of Staff and four se­nior pres­i­den­tial sec­re­taries, pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Jung Youn-Kuk said in a state­ment.

A pub­lic apol­ogy by Park, in which she ac­knowl­edged seek­ing limited ad­vice from Choi, has done noth­ing to as­suage pub­lic out­rage over the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­iour or halt a plunge in her ap­proval rat­ings to record lows. More than 10,000 peo­ple took to the streets of Seoul on Satur­day evening, call­ing on Park to resign and for Choi to be pros­e­cuted. There were sim­i­lar protests else­where, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city, Bu­san.

An­a­lysts say the scan­dal could par­a­lyze Park’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, un­der­ling her lame-duck sta­tus ahead of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in De­cem­ber next year. Choi is the daugh­ter of the late Choi Tae-Min, who mar­ried six times, had mul­ti­ple pseu­do­nyms and set up his own re­li­gious group known as the Church of Eter­nal Life. Choi TaeMin be­friended a trau­ma­tized Park af­ter the 1974 as­sas­si­na­tion of her mother, who he said had ap­peared to him in a dream, ask­ing him to help her daugh­ter.

He be­came a long-time men­tor to Park, who sub­se­quently formed a close bond with Choi Soon-Sil that en­dured af­ter Choi Tae-Min’s death in 1994. Choi Soon-Sil’s ex-hus­band served as a top aide to Park un­til her pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vic­tory in 2012. — AFP

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