South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye is reeling from the revelation that she had consulted a longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, for help drafting speeches and allowed her to see classified government information despite her lack of security clearance and ties to a man U.S. officials have referred to as a “Korean Rasputin.”
Park apologized in a nationally televised speech for allowing Choi to have access to drafts of her speeches. “Regardless of the reasons involved, I am sorry that it has caused national concerns. I deeply apologize to the people,” Park, who has been the nation’s head of state since 2012, said from the presidential palace, the Cheong Wa Dae. Park explained that Choi, a personal friend who has no overt connections to the Korean government, “offered me personal comments about my campaign activities, mostly speeches and publicity efforts.”
“For some period of time after my inauguration, I had asked for her opinion over some materials, but after the secretarial staff at Cheong Wa Dae was fully established, I stopped,” Park noted. It remains uncertain what sort of materials are involved in the case.
Park, previously popular for her hawkish stance on North Korea and handling of the economy, has seen her approval ratings plummet to 40 percent, while the latest Gallup poll found 48 percent of Koreans disapprove of her performance.
The main cause of the nation’s alarm over Choi’s friendship with Park is that her father, Choi Tae-min, established a cult known as the “Eternal Life Church,” declared himself “Future Buddha,” and “used seven different names and was married six times by the time he died in 1994 at the age of 82.” Choi Soon-sil is a daughter of his sixth wife. The elder Choi has been described as a “mentor” figure to Park Geun-hye.
Park is nominally Catholic but has been described as “multi-religious,” UPI claims.
The outlet Quartz notes that Korean media is claiming that Choi’s political advice to the president included “avoid[ing] wearing red or white clothes, while offering amulets and other ‘magical’ protection. During the president’s inauguration, a nearby tree was decorated with a number of silk purses, a touch allegedly added by Choi as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.”
The Chois became close to Park Geun-hye by convincing her that they could communicate with her deceased mother in the afterlife, reports claim.
American officials appeared to have been privately panicked about Park’s religious leanings and ties to the Choi cult for years. A 2007 diplomatic cable published by the organization WikiLeaks referred to the elder Choi as a “Korean Rasputin” and warned that he had “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.” What deputy chief of mission William Stanton wrote in the classified cable matches current reports that the Chois became close to Park after her mother’s assassination, when Park was forced to serve as First Lady in 1974, when she was 22 years old.
Choi is currently in Germany and has told Korean media she is too ill to travel back home. “I am suffering from a nervous breakdown and I have been diagnosed with heart issues,” she told the newspaper Segye Ilbo. “If I recover, I will ask for forgiveness, and will accept punishment if I did anything wrong.”
Attorneys have stated that Choi is cooperating with an investigation into her relationship with Park and will return to Korea when she is able to.
Meanwhile, Park has forced her entire cabinet to resign, responding to a demand for such a move from both her own party and the opposition.
Park’s tenure as president has been marked by an aggressive approach to North Korea — which has repeatedly referred to Park as a “bitch,” “granny,” “cold-blooded animal,” and “ugly old maid.” Park has staged the largest preventative military exercises against North Korea in history and officials in her cabinet have revealed a plan exists to turn Pyongyang “into ashes” should the communist country attack.
North Korean state media has reacted to the Choi scandal with a piece asserting that Park will be assassinated like her mother and father, “her miserable fate already sealed.”