2016 South Korean Political Scandal / Choi Soon-Sil Gate
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Choi-Soo-Sil-Gate, also referred to as the Korean Rasputin Scandal in the Western media, is a major South Korean political scandal surrounding the incumbent president Park Geun Hye’s relationship with Choi Soon-Shil, a longtime friend of Park and the daughter of a shamanistic cult leader, who has been accused of multiple corruption charges and abuse of her influence as an unofficial special advisor to the president, including embezzlement, tax evasion and cronyism. Upon the public disclosure of Choi's special relationship with Park in late October 2016, the news of the scandal immediately prompted a massive wave of protests across the country calling for the resignation of President Park.
Choi Soon-sil has known Park Geun Hye since they were children in the early 1970s when Choi Tae-Min, Choi Soon-sil's father and founder of South Korean pseudo-Christian cult Yongsae-Gyo, became a close mentor of Park's father and the-then Korean military dictator Park Chung-Hee after the assassination of the First Lady in August 1974 (shown below).
According to a quote attributed to Choi, the shamanic leader had claimed that he was able to communicate with Park’s dead mother. In the following decades, Choi continued to remain a core member of Park's inner circle and gain political influence, which culminated after Park was elected the president of South Korea in 2013 and the subsequent appointment of her then-husband as the president's chief of staff.
The precise nature of the longtime friendship between Choi and President Park mostly remained under the radar until September 20th, 2016, when Korean news outlet Hankyoreh ran a profile article of Choi shortly after she was appointed the president of the Boards of Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation, two non-profit organizations that quickly rose to prominence with massive financial backings from the Federation of Korean Industries (KFI), a powerful corporate interest group.
On October 24th, South Korean TV news program JTBC ran an exclusive story alleging that President Park had regularly sought counsel from Choi on a variety of state official matters through her staff, including presidential addresses, relations with North Korea and other national security affairs, citing data evidence from a tablet computer belonging to Choi that was first obtained by one of the network reporters. In the following 24 hours, the term "impeachment" topped the trending keyword charts across all major Korean search portal and social networking sites.
Throughout the week, many news outlets began scrutinizing the nature of relationship between President Park and Choi, as more allegations of corruption and abuse of power against Choi emerged from former staff members and aides of President Park's administration, ranging from blackmailing and extortion to political puppeteering and embezzlement. By the end of October 2016, the controversy had been picked up by foreign news outlets, including the Associated Press, CNN, The Washington Post and The Guardian, many of which likened the controversy to a modern-day “Rasputinian” political scandal.
On September 29th, 2016, a non-governmental organization submitted a formal complaint to the federal prosecutors' office, signaling the first official investigation of the scandal. On October 25th, President Park Geun-hye publicly acknowledged her close ties with Choi. On October 28th, Park dismissed key members of her top office staff and Park's opinion rating dropped to 5%, the lowest ever for any sitting South Korean president. On January 1st, 2017, following the beginning of her trial, Park appeared in front of the public for the first time since the impeachment, saying she denies any allegations of the scandal and wrongdoings.
Interview With Choi
After months of hiding in Germany during the onset of the scandal, Choi spoke out in public for the first time in an exclusive interview with Naver News on October 27th, three days before she was called in for questioning by the federal prosecutors’ office. On October 30th, Choi returned to South Korea and turned herself into the prosecutor's office for questioning.
On November 20th, the South Korean prosecutors formally charged Choi on suspicion of interfering with state affairs and strong-arming companies into giving tens of millions of dollars to foundations and businesses under her control. Furthermore, the office revealed that it has reasons to suspect President Park Geun-hye had knowingly conspired in criminal activities, fueling the rumors of the opposition party’s motion towards impeachment.
In the wake of the scandal, hundreds of thousands of South Korean citizens took their reaction to the streets with mass demonstrations in downtown Seoul, with many protesters calling for President Park’s immediate resignation. On November 12th, an estimated crowd of over one million citizens attended the protest in Seoul, which has been since widely described as the nation’s largest anti-government protest since June 26th, 1987 during the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan.
Some of the most damning accusations against Choi range from political puppeteering, embezzling more than $51 million (USD), coercing big businesses to donate money, money laundering, leveraging her influence to fill in key official positions and accessing classified and top secret documents without proper security clearance or authority, among others.
On December 3rd, 2016, a coalition of minority party leaders in the National Assembly moved their joint motion to impeach President Park on the grounds of violating the Constitution. The next day, an anti-Park faction within majority party declared that they would vote in favor of impeachment. On December 9th, members of the National Assembly passed the impeachment bill by a vote of 234 yes and 56 no. As a result, President Park's powers and duties were immediately suspended for a period of up to 180 days while the Constitutional Court of Korea, which has the final say on the legislative bill for impeachment, deliberated on its verdict.
On December 22nd, the public preliminary hearings of the trial began at the Constitutional Court, with the official hearings for the case opening on January 3rd, 2017. As expected, Park opted not to make any appearance in person for questioning throughout the proceedings, which continued through the end of February.
On March 10th, the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment in a unanimous decision (8-0), which officially ousted Park from powers and also marked the first time that a sitting president was removed from the office since the establishment of democracy in the country. A new presidential election is scheduled to take place within 60 days.
BBC Interview Interruption
On March 10th, 2017, political scientist and professor Robert E. Kelly appeared on an interview segment with BBC News to discuss South Korean politics remotely from his home in Busan, Korea, which took an unexpected turn from a political analysis of serious nature to a funny on-air interruption when two of his children cheerfully marched into the view of the webcam. In less than 72 hours, the video garnered millions of views in aggregate, with BBC's interview clip on its YouTube channel alone racking up over 15 million views. On BBC's Facebook Newsbeat channel, the video gained over 86 million views, making for over 100 million in aggregate.
Racial Stereotype Debate
As the video made the rounds across the social media in the United States and Europe, some viewers commented on the comical situation under the presumption that the woman who appears later on in the video is a nanny working for the professor, which in turn prompted an influx of corrections and fact-checking messages on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere online. On the next day, BBC News reported on the social media debate in a follow-up article titled "Why did people assume an Asian woman in BBC viral video was the nanny?"
walk into the club like pic.twitter.com/Dp4rcdI0pj— Valerie Loftus (@valerieloftus) March 10, 2017
Romper posted an article claiming that assuming Kelly's wife was the nanny perpetrated a "dangerous stereotype." The Guardian also investigated the reaction to the assumption on social media. On March 11th, Twitter user @leyawn published an Expanding Brain meme mocking the discourse surrounding the controversy that gained over 2,200 likes.
On March 14th, Kelly's family responded to their newfound viral fame by appearing on camera in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. They revealed the backstory behind the event: Kelly's wife, Kim Jung-A, was filming the live television broadcast of her interview with her phone when she noticed her children in the frame, prompting her to panic and get the kids out of the room. They also revealed that Kelly did not get up to move his kids because beneath his jacket and tie, he was wearing jeans. Finally, Kelly and Jung-A revealed they did not scold their kids and that they wanted to establish that it's okay to “laugh at the video as unvarnished but normal family life.”
 Wikipedia – Choi Soon-sil
 Wikipedia – Choi Soon-sil Gate
 Wikipedia – 2016 South Korean Protests
 Namu Wiki – 최순실 게이트 (Korean)
 Naver News – [최순실 단독 인터뷰] “연설문 수정, 신의로 한 일인데…국가 기밀인줄 몰랐다 (Korean)
 DC Inside – Sunsiri Board
 CNN – South Korean protesters march against President again
 The Guardian – Tens of thousands march demanding South Korean president Park Geun-Hye resign
 AP – South Korea prosecutors: President conspired with her friend
 Washington Post – South Koreans gather en masse to protest against president
 Reddit – Why is there a sudden revolt against south Korea's president?
 Twitter – @Pearswick's Tweet
 Twitter – @yunsukCNA's Tweet
 The Guardian – BBC interview hijacked by children prompts social media debate
 BBC – Why did people assume an Asian woman in BBC viral video was the nanny?
 The Guardian – BBC interview hijacked by children prompts social media debate
 Twitter – @BBCNews' Tweet
 Facebook – BBC Newsbeat
 Romper – Assuming The Woman In The BBC Dad Video Is The Nanny Highlights A Dangerous Stereotype
 Wall Street Journal – When the Children Crashed Dad’s BBC Interview: The Family Speaks
Nov 22, 2016 at 02:16PM EST
Nov 22, 2016 at 01:30PM EST
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