Rumor of Park’s chief aide quitting goes viral

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Rumor of Park’s chief aide quitting goes viral



Despite repeated denials from the presidential office, rumors persist that President Park Geun-hye’s most trusted aide, Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, will vacate his post.

Last weekend, a message citing a “key ruling party member” spread widely via KakaoTalk instant messenger.

It claimed Kim made clear his intended resignation in meetings with Blue House officials on Oct. 16 and 17.

The message was received by a countless number of people in and outside of politics, and it also mentioned names of Kim’s potential successors, making it seem even more plausible.

“Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon told presidential secretaries who came into his room that matters should be discussed with his successor,” read the message. It said he was voluntarily leaving the Blue House to treat a disease.

The candidates to succeed him included a former lawmaker, a former journalist and a private foundation chief.

The message was what is called jjirashi in Korean.

Jjirashi is slang referring to sometimes groundless gossip about political, business and social figures and affairs circulated in the form of an email attachment or phone message.

Rumors about the fate of the 75-year-old Chief of Staff have been relentless since June as criticism rose over his failures, particularly the fiasco to find a replacement for Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who tendered his resignation in late April to take responsibility for the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry that killed over 300. A successful replacement wasn’t found and Chung kept his job.

Some describe Kim, a former prosecutor-general and justice minister, as the real power behind the president’s throne and say Park relies on him too much.

The Blue House suspects certain political forces are determined to break Kim’s power grip - some main opposition lawmakers as well as an anti-Park faction with the ruling Saenuri Party - and are the source of the rumor.

“Early this month, Chief of Staff Kim ordered the civil affairs office of the Blue House to track down the source of the rumors about him,” said a lawmaker with the ruling Saenuri Party. The result of that probe is unknown.

On Tuesday, the senior presidential secretary for public relations brought up the issue during a briefing with Blue House correspondents.

“The rumor is detailed,” said secretary Yoon Doo-hyun, “but detailed information does not necessarily guarantee whether it’s true or not.”

“There is no presidential aide available at the moment to replace Kim, given his vast capabilities,” said another key official at the Blue House. “President Park letting Kim go is unimaginable for the time being.”

Rumors that Prime Minister Chung has also vowed to retire after the National Assembly passes a special bill to investigate the Sewol tragedy have also been spreading.

One of his aides, however, said Chung leaving the job voluntarily is a preposterous idea.


BY SEO JI-EUN, KIM JUNG-HA [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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