Leak case evolves into ‘shadow president’ scandal in S Korea

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Saenuri demands major reshuffle at presidential secretariat, Cabinet

Choi Soon-sil, the close confidante of President Park Geun-hye who was allegedly allowed to meddle in state affairs, has continued to rock South Korea on Wednesday.

Scrambling to respond to the explosive “shadow president” scandal, Park’s own ruling Saenuri Party called on the president to enact a major reshuffle of the Cabinet and the presidential secretariat, while opposition parties pressed for a special investigation by an independent counsel.

The prosecution, which has been looking into influence-peddling allegations involving Choi, searched her home and offices on Wednesday morning, apparently accelerating its probe after weeks of slow progress. Choi is believed to be hiding in Germany.

Choi is an old friend of Park who is also the daughter of her late mentor Choi Tae-min and ex-wife of her former secretary Jeong Yoon-hoe. The latest revelations suggest that Choi had received regular reports on Park’s schedule, speeches, personnel arrangements and even some classified information, such as secret inter-Korea military meetings.

Park on Tuesday admitted to having sought Choi’s opinions on her speeches and apologised.

“Members of (the Supreme Council) had agreed that Park’s apology meant she recognised the grave nature of the situation...and that she will make sure it will never happen again,” Saenuri chief Rep. Lee Jung-hyun said in a press conference after a meeting of the party’s top-decision making body.

“But they agreed that it should not end with her apology,” he added, saying a sweeping personnel reshuffle is both necessary and inevitable.

The Saenuri leaders also agreed that the president’s proposal to revise the nation’s Constitution, which was made the day before the very first revelation, should be carried out without delay, Lee said.

During her apology Tuesday, Park said she stopped sending Choi documents after the presidential secretaries were appointed. However, her claim was refuted within hours when local cable station TV JTBC revealed that Choi received reports until at least mid-2014, one and a half years after the president took office. JTBC broke the news after finding a computer used by Choi which had over 200 files containing confidential information.

According to another TV channel, TV Chosun, Choi, in 2014, received a report on the presidential office’s detailed personnel plans, including the candidates for the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs post.

It also disclosed video footage of Choi in November of that year supposedly giving instructions to staff on what the president should wear during official events, which Park ended up wearing.

Minjoo Party chief Rep Choo Mi-ae referred to Choi as “the president of the night,” and urged for the formation of a special prosecution to investigate allegations that she extensively meddled in a wide-range of state affairs.

“This ‘disaster’ that has shattered the state system was brought on by Park, yet she fails to recognise how grave the situation is...I’m curious after Park’s 90 second apology (on Tuesday), if she knows what ‘classified’ means, if she knows the danger of leaking information, if she cannot distinguish between public and private matters, and if she indeed feels any sense of guilt or shame,” Choo said.

The Minjoo on Wednesday decided to accept the party leadership’s push for a special prosecution.

Presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk on Wednesday refused to comment on what the president’s next action would be or whether she plans to leave the ruling Saenuri Party as demanded by some of its lawmakers.

“I think she would have no choice but to do that (leave the party),” said Rep Na Kyung-won of the Saenuri during a radio interview, adding that her staff should also resign en masse.

Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil, who once during his campaign pledged to “protect Park,” called the current situation “a national crisis” and said that the president “has disappeared from the minds of people.”

Rep Kim Young-tae called Park’s apology “lie-ridden from start to end,” and reiterated his demand that the president leave Saenuri in order not to hinder the special investigation on the scandal.

The prosecution on Wednesday raided nine locations related to the scandal, including offices of the Mir and K-Sports foundations, the headquarters of the Federation of Korean Industries, along with Choi’s personal residence and office.

A recent survey by the polling agency R&Search showed that Park’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, with just 25.8 percent saying that Park is doing well and 69.6 per cent showing disapproval. The agency said that the support for Park is likely to dip even further, as the research was conducted before she even admitted the allegations.

Student Councils of major Universities across the country have declared a “state of emergency,” with more planning to follow suit.

Earlier in the day, students of Ewha Womans University — which is suspected of granting various favours to Choi’s daughter — condemned the current situation and called for a thorough investigation on the president and all those related.

“Park’s slogan was ‘a country where dreams come true,’ but we’ve been living in a country where Choi Soon-sil’s dreams come true,” they said in a statement

Students at Park’s alma mater Sogang University said they were shocked at Park’s actions and urged her not to “taint the university’s honour further.” 

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