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South Korean President Park Geun-hye has ordered 10 of her senior secretaries to resign amid an investigation that she let an old friend and daughter of a religious cult leader to interfere in important state affairs. The announcement by Park’s office came on the eve of large anti-government protests planned in Seoul on Saturday over the scandal that is likely to deepen the president’s lame duck status ahead of next year’s elections.
Park has been facing calls to reshuffle her office after she admitted on Tuesday that she provided longtime friend Choi Soon-sil drafts of her speeches for editing. Her televised apology sparked huge criticism about her mismanagement of national information and heavy-handed leadership style many see as lacking in transparency.
There’s also media speculation that Choi, who holds no government job, meddled in government decisions on personnel and policy and exploited her ties with the president to misappropriate funds from nonprofit organisations. The saga, triggered by weeks of media reports, has sent Park’s approval ratings to record lows and the minority opposition Justice Party has called for her to resign.
In the last few days, prosecutors widened their investigation by raiding the homes and offices belonging to Choi and some of her associates and also the offices of two nonprofit foundations she supposedly controlled. Park’s aides on the way out include Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, and Ahn Jong-bom, senior secretary for economic affairs. Lee Won-jong, Park’s chief of staff, tendered his resignation on Wednesday.
Woo has been blamed for failing to prevent Choi from influencing state affairs and has also been embroiled in separate corruption allegations surrounding his family. Ahn is under suspicion that he helped Choi pressure South Korean companies into making large donations to the Mir and K-Sports foundations, launched in October last year and January this year, respectively.
Choi reportedly masterminded the creation of the two nonprofits, which managed to gather around USD 70 million in corporate donations over a short period of time, and is suspected of misappropriating some of these funds for personal use. Park’s office said she plans to announce a new lineup of senior secretaries soon.
Choi’s lawyer Lee Gyeong-jae told reporters on Friday that she is currently in Germany and is willing to return to South Korea if prosecutors summon her.