South Korea’s ‘fe­male Rasputin’ re­turns to face charges

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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, Ms Park’s pres­i­dency has un­rav­elled over shock­ing rev­e­la­tions that she dis­cussed and sought ad­vice on gov­ern­ment pol­icy from Choi Soon-sil, a close friend with no of­fi­cial po­si­tion and no se­cu­rity clear­ance.

Ms Choi, who has been holed up in Ger­many since early Septem­ber, flew into Seoul early yes­ter­day 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,” Mr Lee said.

As well as a pub­lic up­roar over her re­la­tion­ship with, and ap­par­ent con­trol over Ms 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.

Ms Choi has spo­ken with pros­e­cu­tors to sched­ule her ques­tion­ing, Mr Lee said.

The past week has a seen a daily diet of in­creas­ingly sen­sa­tional me­dia re­ports re­gard­ing Ms Choi, the 60-year-old daugh­ter of a shad­owy re­li­gious leader and a men­tor of Ms Park un­til his death.

In­vok­ing a lurid back-story of re­li­gious cults, shaman­ist rit­u­als and cor­rup­tion, the re­ports have por­trayed Ms 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,” Mr Lee said.

A pub­lic apol­ogy by Ms Park, in which she ac­knowl­edged seek­ing limited ad­vice from Ms 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 October 29, call­ing on Ms Park to re­sign and for Ms Choi to be pros­e­cuted.

There were sim­i­lar protests else­where, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s sec­ond­largest city, Bu­san.

An­a­lysts say the scan­dal could paral­yse Ms Park’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, un­der­lin­ing her lame-duck sta­tus ahead of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in De­cem­ber 2017.

Ms 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 Tae-min be­friended a trau­ma­tised Ms 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 Ms Park, who sub­se­quently formed a close bond with Ms 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 Ms Park un­til her pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vic­tory in 2012.

Photo: AFP

Pro­test­ers wear­ing masks of South Korea per­form be­fore a can­dle-lit rally in cen­tra her close friend.

an Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye (front) and her con­fi­dante Choi Soon-sil (back) al Seoul on October 29 to de­nounce Ms Park over the cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing

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