South Korea is caught in the middle of a snowballing political scandal engulfing President Park Geun-Hye’s administration. The woman at the centre of the controversy, Choi Soon-sil, is alleged to have meddled in state affairs owing to her close proximity with Park Geun-Hye that has triggered mass street protests amid growing calls from people demanding Park’s resignation. Choi was detained by prosecutors on Tuesday as they probe whether she used her friendship to the President to influence important state affairs by gaining access to certain classified documents. There are also allegations that she personally benefited through non-profit foundations with the help of those documents.
Here is the background of the scandal:
South Korea President Park Geun-Hye and Choi Soon-sil, daughter of late shadowy religious leader Choi Tae-Min, have been friends for a little over 40 years. This has given rise to speculations in South Korea about the precise nature of their friendship and whether this has anything to with reports of religious cults and shamanistic rituals.
The alleged influence Choi exerted in state affairs with no official government role has baffled many South Koreans, prompting senior advisers close to the President to resign in the wake of the controversy. The saga has dominated headlines for a while now and further eroded the leader’s fourth year of a single five-year term.
Park, in the meantime, has told the media that Choi and her father were old acquaintances who helped her get through difficult phases in life. In a brief televised appearance last week, Park had said he had given Choi access to her draft speeches early in her term as president and even apologised for causing public concern.
On her part, Choi told South Korea’s Segye Ilbo newspaper only last week that she had received drafts of Park’s speeches, but vehemently denied the fact that she had access to other official material or influenced state affairs. She had said, “I committed a crime I deserve to die for. Please forgive me.”
Some political analysts have described Choi as very influential person in South Korea who tactfully exerted control over Park’s important policy decisions and also the hiring of senior government officials. Meanwhile, Choi’s lawyer Lee has said he expects prosecutors to focus on allegations about her daughter’s college admission, whether money from charitable foundations flowed into companies set up by Choi, and reported leaks of classified documents. The stinging allegations against Choi Soon-sil were first brought to light by South Korean media, when Lee had said it was too soon to comment on their veracity.
In an interview to Reuters, Lee said, “I hope prosecutors will conduct a fair, thorough investigation into the allegations.”