Answers remain elusive

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Answers remain elusive

Despite interrogations by lawmakers in the fourth hearing on Wednesday at the National Assembly over the Choi Soon-sil scandal, we still don’t know what President Park Geun-hye was doing during the seven hours after the tragic sinking of Sewol ferry in 2014. Nevertheless, the hearing provided ample evidence of porous security in the Blue House. The National Security Office (NSO) in the presidential compound was totally unaware of the whereabouts of Park, the Secret Service turned a blind eye to her friends and aides’ frequent visits to the presidential residence, and the official medical system for the president completely broke down.

Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo, then chief of the NSO, testified that he sent his report about the Sewol tragedy to two places — where the president was presumed to be — because he was unable to locate her. Her Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon also lost track of her at a critical moment. It was 2:57 p.m. when the head of the NSO requested President Park visit the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters (now changed to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security). The president appeared at the headquarters after 5 p.m. She reacted to the unprecedented national disaster too slowly.

We cannot understand how the Secret Service gave ordinary people — like Park’s personal friends and medical doctors — nearly free access to the Blue House. Doctors testified that they could enter the presidential residence with few, if any, restrictions. Given the gravity of presidential security, the rank of the Secret Service chief was raised to that of a four-star general, an equivalent of a ministerial level.

Regardless, the Secret Service offered a convenient environment for private citizens to visit the president’s residence in the compound.

Conditions of a president’s health are classified as a national secret. Given the sensitivity involved, the issue must be prudently dealt with. Yet the fourth hearing showed the president indiscriminately received medical treatments from doctors in the private sector, which made the Blue House’ normal medical system useless.

The “lost seven hours” are rapidly turning into a conundrum thanks to the breakdown of security in the Blue House. But what happened during those seven hours must be discovered to see how awake President Park was at a critical juncture. It is time for Park to personally explain what she did at the time. That is the only way to put an end to the shameful controversies over the rumor that she underwent a cosmetic procedure at the time.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 15, Page 34
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