05.11.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

The Scandal surrounding Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil – the Defendant’s Arrest and Prime Minister’s Resignation

3423123123123123We continue to keep the audience apprised of the sensational South-Korean scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil – a friend of the President Park Geun-hye, who has participated in the formation of public policy, read secret documents, and introduced amendments to the president’s speeches without holding any official status. In addition, she is suspected of using her influence to force major corporations to make contributions to two foundations related to her – Mir and K-Sports. Having raised more than 70 million dollars, she allegedly used this money to buy property abroad and pay for her daughter’s education.

On October 31, 2016, Choi Soon-sil appeared for questioning in the Central District Prosecutor’s Office in Seoul and answered the investigator’s questions in detail, after which it was decided to detain her for 48 hours. This decision was made for a number of reasons. First, Choi might try to escape and destroy the evidence. In addition, the suspect’s mental health is unstable. Second, a vengeful crowd met Choi at the entrance of the court building and almost crushed her. The investigators had to physically carry Choi into the building, meanwhile, she lost her Prada shoe worth 630 dollars. Later, one of the outraged citizens even tried to move her with an excavator, having broken into the building where she was.

Now, investigators have time to bring official charges, after which the court may issue an arrest warrant. It is not clear whether they will be able to gather enough evidence to bring charges as this story has become overgrown with rumours. In particular, there are plans to find the evidence of her interference in public policy. Moreover, the involvement of Choi Soon-sil in the scandal with MIR and K-Sports Foundations must be verified, as well as the case of her daughter Jeong Yoo Ra’s enrolment in the Ewha University. Thus, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Korea has sent a request to the Court for a warrant to extend the detention of Choi Soon-sil without charges for another 20 days.

As is customary, they are hanging all the blame on Choi. For example, she is suspected of involvement in the headline-making case when the “contract of the century” worth about 8 billion dollars on the acquisition of destroyers was suddenly transferred from Boeing to Lockheed Martin. Other rumours state that her elder sister participated in Choi’s Shadow Cabinet, and some even go as far as saying that a further eight wives of oligarchs were determining the entire policy of the country.

All this reminds of the speculation surrounding Gorbachev’s time in power about the idea that his wife was actually running the show. Meanwhile, the President’s rating continues to fall. On November 1, the D OPINION analytical company and Neil Sinmun newspaper published the results of an opinion poll, according to which the level of support for the president had fallen to 9.2%. The most significant drop in ratings was seen among the respondents over 50 years old. 67.3% agreed with the demands for Park Geun-hye’s resignation, while 80.9% believe that the current situation could not be solved by a simple staff renewal.

In this context, mass campaigns demanding the resignation of Park Geun-hye have broken out in different regions of the country. Their participants state that the current President has undermined the confidence of her nation by allowing unauthorised people to run the country. Student organizations and professors from 90 South Korean higher educational institutions have announced their demand for impeachment, and the trade unions are likely to join them, as they have previously contested against the President. Thus, the situation may lead to skirmishes and get out of control, and the slightest bloodshed can cause an explosion. Therefore, the police are behaving as appropriately as possible.

Given what has occurred, the leadership of the ruling Saenuri Party has demanded that a national unity government be formed, which would operate based on neutrality and would include representatives of the opposition. They proposed the former head of the temporary board of the opposition Democratic Party Kim Chong-in or the former leader of the Democratic Party Sohn Hak-kyu, who had embarked on an independent political career, as possible candidates for the post of the next Prime Minister. However, Kim Byung-joon – a Professor of Business Administration the Kookmin University, where he served as the Chief Secretary for the national policy in the Roh Moo-hyun administration – was appointed the new Prime Minister. Commenting on this, representative of the President’s administration Chun Yong-guk said that the Prime Minister would be granted broad powers and would work on domestic policy independently.

However, both left and the right-wingers are dissatisfied with Kim’s appointment as they had planned to promote their own candidates. The leader of the opposition Democratic Toburo Party, Choo Mi-ae, has declared that by adopting such a decision without the approval of the National Assembly, Park Geun-hye has not solved the current problem with Choi Soon-sil, but created another troubled Cabinet of Ministers. The Chairman of the Interim Committee of the People’s Party Park Jie-Won also expressed his negative opinion. He announced that the actions of the President Park Geun-hye may lead to public protests. The current reshuffle has divided opinion within the ruling Saenuri Party. The government media have carefully pointed out that as Park Geun-hye’s ratings as President have dropped below ten percent, the Ministers’ reshuffle is unlikely to resolve the political crisis.

Meanwhile, throwing a bone to the opposition, the government is trying to eliminate concerns about the possible changes in government policy in the fields of economy and security. On November 1, the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Republic of Korea sent notifications to all foreign diplomatic missions of the country on behalf of the Minister Yun Byung-se on the need to focus on the maintained stability of Seoul’s domestic and foreign policy. The maintained stability of the North Korean policy was particularly emphasized. According to the opposition, the tightening of this policy was dictated solely by Choi’s machination. A meeting between the Deputy Ministers of the Republic of Korea, the USA, and Japan was conducted last week with the same aim, as well as South Korean and American high-level negotiations.

Meanwhile, the DPRK is actively rallying against Choi and speculating about this Rasputin and her mad cabal in its usual style. On October 31, Rodong Sinmun newspaper published an article entitled “Great political scandal around Choi Soon-sil” where Choi was called the regent, and Park – the puppet. South Korean media and its representatives fought back with a languid response demanding the North stop interfering in the internal affairs of others and claiming that the attacks made by the North Korean media were “old-fashioned” and no longer worked. In general, the North should focus on the living standards of its citizens.

In addition, the next Hoguk manoeuvres have commenced. They will run from October 31 to November 11 under the pretext of the preparation for an attack from the DPRK. These manoeuvres have been conducted annually since 1996. According to the representative of the President’s Administration of the Republic of Korea Chun Yong-guk, “the Government will maintain a state of readiness for any situation” and “it must prevent the occurrence of gaps” in state security in the context of the domestic political scandal.

So we are waiting for the outcomes of the investigation and the mass demonstrations planned for November 5 and November 12. Popular opposition politician Ahn Cheol-soo has already announced that Park is not the President any more. However, we will see. The Korean national sport – factional struggle – is never short of surprises.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. in History, Chief Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.