Park to give state of affairs speech

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Park to give state of affairs speech

President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to deliver her annual state of affairs speech on Monday at the National Assembly, with speculation growing that she may use the opportunity to address the corruption scandal involving her longtime friend.

The Blue House said Park has never skipped the annual opportunity to explain the government’s budget plans; Monday’s will be her fourth budgetary speech and her third address at the legislature this year. “Her annual practice demonstrates her will to establish a new culture of cooperation with the lawmakers by visiting the National Assembly,” presidential spokesman, Jung Youn-kuk, said Sunday.

It remains to be seen whether Park will use the speech to address corruption allegations involving her confidant, Choi Soon-sil. Last year, the president urged the public to support her decision to restore state control over history textbooks, rejecting criticism that this was an attempt to whitewash the history of her late father, former President Park Chung Hee. Political observers, however, said Park will not touch the scandal, as she already made public her position last week.

Choi is suspected of using her connection with the president to pressure companies to make contributions worth 77.4 billion won ($68.1 million) to launch two nonprofit cultural and sports foundations: the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations. It is suspected that some of the funds raised for the two foundations were funneled into shell companies established by Choi and her daughter in Germany.

In her remarks at the senior secretariat meeting on Thursday, Park gave the green light for prosecutors to investigate the scandal. She also denied that the foundations were created to raise slush funds to be used after her presidential tenure.

The National Assembly will start its review on the 2017 government budget starting Monday after Park’s speech. The statutory deadline to pass the budget bill is Dec. 2.

As the ruling and opposition parties are clashing over a series of political issues, including the Choi scandal, it is not yet known whether the budget will be passed in time by the National Assembly, where the ruling Saenuri Party is largely outnumbered. The opposition parties vowed to pass corporate and income tax laws to increase the tax rates along with the budget bill, while the ruling party vowed to stop it. The opposition parties also vowed to slash all budgets linked to the president’s pet projects, ahead of the next year’s presidential election. Any cultural and sports projects linked to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations will receive no budget, said Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chief policymaker of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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