Choi Soon-sil, a friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who Park has admitted was privy to presidential speeches and other unspecified sensitive information without clearance, says she has committed a crime that “deserves death” upon returning to Seoul.
Choi has returned to South Korea from Germany in light of criminal allegations against her. She is currently in emergency detention following the recommendation of prosecutors.
Speaking in Seoul following her arrest, Choi told reporters, “I committed a sin that deserves death,” while reportedly sobbing. “I am so sorry… please forgive me.”
The South Korean news agency Yonhap reports quotes her attorney as saying that Choi “deeply regrets the fact that she caused such a huge confusion” and “thinks she should receive due punishment if there was any (violation of law),” but was not inviting capital punishment on herself literally. South Korea still legally applies capital punishment, but the last such case occurred in 1997.
Prosecutors say Choi must be kept in detention because “we’re concerned that she may destroy evidence.” “She is also in an extremely unstable psychological state, and it’s possible an unexpected event could occur if she is released,” a prosecution official told Yonhap. The
The Korea Times reported on Monday that Choi has already been caught providing police with misinformation regarding a tablet in which there may have been sensitive government materials, sent to her through President Park. Investigators believe that Choi used her daughter’s name on the tablet to keep police from finding the device.
President Park apologized for her inappropriate interactions with Choi in a nationally televised speech last week. “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 said. While she has confirmed Park had access to first drafts of speeches, investigators are looking into evidence that suggests Choi had access to hundreds of classified presidential documents and advised Park on key official appointments.
Choi is the daughter of cult leader Choi Tae-min, who became close to President Park following the assassination of her mother by guaranteeing that he could communicate with the dead. Because of the unusual spiritual aspects of the relationship between Park and the Chois, Koreans have reacted to the news that a member of that cult held significant political sway in their country with panic. Park is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of unpopularity, according to polls taken after the scandal broke.
Possibly more damaging to Park may be subsequent reports that Choi was not the only unauthorized interloper in South Korea’s government. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper published a report Monday suggesting that, while Choi Soon-sil had close ties to Park, her elder sister Choi Soon-deuk was the “real power” in the family regarding Park, and Choi Soon-sil merely the “power broker.” The elder Choi is said to be living in ill health in Seoul.
Another individual potentially with inappropriate access to the top of the national government is a man identified as Ko Yeong Tae. Ko, a former championship fencer and employee at a “host bar” — an establishment featuring attractive young men that caters to older women — told Korean media that he knew Choi edited Park’s speeches. His declaration led to the investigation that revealed the true nature of the relationship between Choi and Park. Ko’s knowledge of this has led many to question the relationship he had with Choi, himself.
The scandal has also ensnared television actor Park Hae Jin, star of the Korean show Man to Man, as a photo has surfaced allegedly showing him at a host bar alongside Ko. Park is taking legal action against media outlets propagating the photo.
North Korean propaganda outlets have taken with zeal to the scandal.
“The hideous political scandal called ‘Choe Sun Sil nuclear bomb’ was by no means accidental but it was an inevitability of history,” an article at Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency blared this week. “The article cites facts to prove that the case is a clear proof of the true nature of the Park Geun Hye regime, the most deformed, abnormal and stupid in contemporary society.”