Friend’s influence over President Park Geun-hye engulfs Blue House in scandal

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Friend’s influence over President Park Geun-hye engulfs Blue House in scandal


A screen grab from JTBC news footage of Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye’s longstanding friend, who is suspected to have edited Park’s speeches in advance.

Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye, received drafts of presidential speeches and sometimes edited them, JTBC, a TV network of the JoongAng Media Group, reported Monday night.

The revelation of the alleged control of Choi over the president engulfed the Blue House in a political firestorm Monday night and Tuesday but the presidential office remained totally silent about the accusation as of Tuesday afternoon.

Political parties, including the ruling Saenuri Party, demanded a personal explanation from Park over the allegation.

According to an exclusive report aired Monday night, JTBC obtained about 200 digital files from a computer in Choi’s office and 44 of them were Park’s speeches and official remarks. The files were saved and opened before Park actually delivered them -- in some case as early as three days in advance.

“Because a draft of a presidential speech had not been shared within the Blue House in advance, providing them to Choi, who has no official role related to the presidential office, will prompt a serious aftermath,” the report said.

Choi, formerly described as a confidante to the president, seems to have exerted much more power over the president than ever conceived before - possible to an unprecedented extend. Choi is a daughter of Park’s former mentor, late Choi Tae-min. Her ex-husband, Chung Yoon-hoi, was the chief of staff to Park from 1998 until 2004 when she was a lawmaker.

Over the past weeks, Choi has been at the center of a snowballing corruption scandal. She was accused of having used her ties to the president to strong-arm conglomerates into make massive donations to Park’s two pet projects - a cultural foundation and a sports foundation.

Critics have described the foundations as giant slush funds to finance Park’s life after the presidency, which the president has denied.
In addition, Choi allegedly embezzled money from them, which has prompted an official investigation by prosecutors, who are also probing how the foundations were started. The whereabouts of Choi are currently unclear. Prosecutors say that she left Korea for Germany.
The latest JTBC report substantiates an earlier report from Oct. 19 that Choi had edited some of Park’s speeches. “What she loves the most is editing the [president’s] speeches,” Choi’s close associate Ko Young-tae told JTBC. “When the speech she edited creates a problem, she yells at the wrong people.”

The Blue House responded furiously to that report. At the National Assembly’s audit of the presidential office on Oct. 21, Chief of Staff Lee Won-jong angrily shot down the allegation. “Unless you are insane, can you believe this?” Lee said at the time. “Such a notion wouldn’t even be plausible in the feudal age.”

The latest JTBC report, however, showed that Park’s landmark North Korea roadmap address delivered in Dresden, Germany in 2014 was saved on Choi’s computer ahead of the actual speech. Park made breakthrough proposals in the address including joint economic development projects, the creation of a Northeast Asia Development Bank and cultural and educational exchanges with North Korea as steps toward a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

Park delivered the address in Dresden at 6:40 p.m. on March 28, 2014 Seoul time. The text was saved on Choi’s computer at 7:20 p.m. on March 27.

“Most of the speeches were edited after they went through Choi,” JTBC reported.

Opening remarks at major meetings hosted by Park, including a cabinet conference, were also shared with Choi. Park replaced her chief of staff Huh Tae-yeol and some other aides on Aug. 5, 2013. A file containing the president’s opening remark for the 34th cabinet meeting was delivered to Choi at 6:27 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2013. The cabinet meeting actually took place on Aug. 6, 2013.

“Choi received various internal documents since Park was running for president,” JTBC reported. “Campaign speeches as well as her acceptance speech after the election were offered to Choi before they were actually delivered.”

Following the bombshell revelation, the Blue House remained silent. “We are trying to look into it through all possible channels,” said presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk Tuesday morning.

The ruling Saenuri Party demanded Park address the scandal personally. “As a leader of the ruling party, I sincerely apologize to the people for this scandal,” Rep. Chung Jin-suk, Saenuri floor leader, said Tuesday. “President Park must directly explain to the people.”
“The prosecution and law enforcement authorities must locate Choi and her family and thoroughly investigate the scandal,” he said. “Senior Presidential Civil Affairs Secretary Woo Byung-woo must resign immediately. He is responsible for having failed to prevent Choi’s meticulously planned, immoral power abuse and amassing of wealth. He is also responsible for protecting the security of the Blue House and disciplining presidential aides.”

Some lawmakers of the Saenuri Party including Reps. Kim Yong-tae and Ha Tae-keung said an independent counsel must be appointed to investigate the Choi scandal in order to secure the integrity of the probe.

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea said Park must be investigated.

“A series of unacceptable, abnormal revelations are made one after another concerning the Blue House operations,” said Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party. “Now, President Park is a subject of an investigation.”

Woo said Park must personally explain to the people why the speeches were sent to Choi and why Choi edited them. “She must apologize to the people,” he said.

Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chief policymaker, said the Act on the Management of Presidential Archives strictly bars any leak of a presidential document. “Choi’s interference in state affairs is a crime, and she must be arrested and investigated,” he said.

A person who conceals or divulges presidential records without permission is liable to up to seven-year imprisonment or up to 20 million won in fines, Article 30 of the act said.

Rep. Park Jie-won, acting head of the People’s Party, said state affairs were abused. “We need the president’s confession more than at any time in the past,” he said. “We demand it.”

Rumors that Choi and her ex-husband Chung have heavy influence over the president existed for years. In December 2014, Park Gwan-cheon, a senior police officer seconded to the Office of the Presidential Secretary for Civil Service Discipline, was questioned by the prosecution for having leaked a Blue House internal report that claimed that Chung had led a secret 10-member faction consisting of the president’s key secretaries in a bid to influence state affairs. During the questioning, he said “Choi is ranked on the top of the power list. Chung is second. President Park is only the third.”

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