Park campaign’s new vulnerability
A controversial foundation has become the latest Achilles’ heel for the Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, and her critics are using it to remind voters of the authoritarian rule of her father, Park Chung Hee.
The foundation was seized by her father in 1962, a year after the military coup that brought him to power, and was eventually chaired by Park Geun-hye for 11 years. It gives scholarships to poor students but owns such major assets as a 30 percent stake in the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, or MBC.
While Park insists she currently has no influence over the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, her critics say otherwise.
Originally set up as the Buil Scholarship Foundation in 1958, Busan-based businessman Kim Ji-tae surrendered his control of the foundation to the junta of Park Chung Hee in 1962.
In 2007, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the Park regime forced Kim to surrender the foundation and recommended the assets be returned to the family of the original founder. The government requested the foundation do so, but it didn’t comply.
The foundation changed its name in 1982 to the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, and Park Geun-hye chaired it from 1994 until 2005. It also owns a newspaper in Busan.
Choi Phil-lip, current head of the foundation, was a public affairs secretary for the presidential daughter in the Park Chung Hee Blue House.
Local media has been reporting since last week that the foundation and MBC had a secret meeting to reach an agreement to help Park during the campaign. The Hankyoreh newspaper reported that Choi and two senior executives of MBC met on Oct. 8 to discuss a plan to sell the foundation’s stake in the broadcaster.
Described as “Choi Phil-lip’s secret meeting,” the newspaper said Saturday that Choi met Lee Jin-sook, MBC’s planning and public relations chief, and Lee Sang-ok, a senior manager in strategy planning.
On Monday, the newspaper followed up its exclusive with further details, running an excerpt of a transcript of their conversation.
According to Monday’s report, Lee Jin-sook said the foundation’s sale of its 30 percent stake in MBC is “an issue with an enormous political impact.”
Choi was quoted as saying, “I am worried that people will call it a dirty trick ahead of the presidential election.”
According to the transcript, the three also discussed a plan to hold a press conference on Friday to announce the sale. Details, such as who should moderate the press conference, were discussed.
Following the report, MBC said the reports were based on an illegal recording of the conversation and that it will ask prosecutors to investigate.
“We think100 percent it involves surveillance,” Lee Jin-sook told JTBC on Monday.
She said the conversation took place in a conference room at the foundation with only the three attending. “Our conversation was documented in such great detail,” she said. “It almost recorded our laughter.”
Lee said the Hankyoreh must come clean if it based its reports on illegally obtained information. She also said the newspaper distorted their discussion with malicious intent.
“There is nothing wrong with the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation board chairman and MBC meeting at any time,” Lee said. “But the newspaper called it a secret meeting, as if we had a political purpose. They depicted it as if it were a conspiracy.”
Lee also said none of the three participants leaked the conversation.
Choi and the Saenuri Party, however, suspect the leak was made by MBC.
“We first thought the Hankyoreh secretly recorded our conversation,” Choi told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. “But we inquired about the incident a bit and learned that the transcript was actually made by MBC.”
A senior member of Park’s campaign also said it appeared that MBC had created the transcript and it was leaked by someone working for the broadcaster.
The Hankyoreh said Monday its reports were not based on eavesdropping and it will reveal how it obtained the information when the timing is right.
Despite the ongoing controversy, Park reiterated that she has nothing new to say on the issue.
Asked by reporters if she was willing to address the issue, Park said, “I’ve already spoken about my position.”
On Monday, Park also said, “I have nothing to do with the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation issue. Neither I nor the opposition party has any right to tell them what to do.”
While Park tries to keep her distance from the issue, Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of the Saenuri Party and a co-chairman of her presidential campaign, said yesterday it was desirable for Choi to step down from his position at the foundation as soon as possible.
“Choi’s term ends in March,” Hwang said in an interview with YTN radio yesterday. “It is desirable that he moves the timing forward. If he really wants to help Park, he must sort out the situation.”
The Saenuri Party chairman also rejected the opposition Democratic United Party’s demand to conduct a National Assembly investigation into the matter. “Throughout the five years of the Roh Moo-hyun government, several investigations already took place on the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation,” Hwang said. “The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education recently had an audit, and no problems were discovered.”
Hwang also said the party has no power to influence the foundation over the sale of its stake in MBC.
Since a trial is ongoing for Kim’s family to retrieve the assets confiscated by the Park Chung Hee regime, Hwang said the foundation cannot dispose of its stake before the ruling.
By Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]