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Choi Soon-sil Scandal

After the 70-day-long investigation, independent counsel Park Young-soo on 06 March 2017 announced his team's findings. "The core subject of this team's investigation has been the abuse of power to monopolize state affairs for personal interest and the collusive links between business and politics. To truly unify public opinion, it is important that every bit of the truth comes to light."

During the press conference, the independent counsel confirmed the bribery charges against President Park Geun-hye. He said the president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil colluded to pressure Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to give more than 37 million U.S. dollars to two foundations controlled by Choi in exchange for support for a critical merger that was seen as cementing Lee's succession at Samsung.

According to a press release that accompanied the announcement, it was President Park who instructed the National Pension Service to vote for the controversial merger at a 2015 shareholders' meeting. The counsel also said that Choi Soon-sil meddled in state affairs, including personnel appointments and diplomacy. The counsel also concluded that President Park and Choi Soon-sil created a blacklist of more than nine-thousand cultural figures deemed critical of the government, in conjunction with former culture minister Cho Yoon-sun and former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon.

Shortly after the press conference, both Samsung and the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae responded, rejecting all allegations.

Choi Soon-sil and Park became friends in the 1970s when Choi's father Choi Tae-min, founder of an obscure sect called the Church of Eternal Life, emerged as a mentor to Park. At the time she was serving as acting first lady after the 1974 assassination of her mother, Yuk Young-soo. Claiming himself to be a psychic and messenger of God, Choi asserted he was receiving messages from the late first lady and that Park, too, could reach out to her mother. His alleged influence angered several key aides to her father, the country's then military strongman Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979.

In the 2007 Presidential campaign, when Park made her initial bid as the party’s presidential candidate, rumors were rife that the charismatic pastor had complete control over Park's body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.

October 2016

By October 2016 the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office was investigating charges that Choi Sun-sil used her personal relationship with the president to elicit over $68 million from large Korean corporations to fund two sports foundations. She then allegedly funneled the money into a German sports company called Widec Sports, that was operated by Choi and her daughter.

Corruption scandals have been rampant in South Korea’s political history, mostly involving family members or those close to the president. People completely lost faith in the president, which would make it difficult for her to pursue any real policy for the remainder of her term. Her five-year term was to finish in 2018, but Park had lost her authority as president.

If Park resigned, an election would have to be held within 60 days to choose a new president, who would serve a full five-year term. This would plunge the state into chaos - but it would be a swift way of relieving the government paralysis. But the chances of Park stepping down herself are slim.

As to impeachment, the National Assembly would pass motion for impeachment, suspending the President from performing her duties. While the Constitutional Court was holding its hearing, an acting President would be brought in. Depending on how the Court rulled, either Park would be reinstated or an early election would be held. South Koreans of all political stripes recall the trauma of the 2004 impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008). An impeachment motion would have be passed by two-thirds of more of the National Assembly, or 200 members. By late 2016, it was unclear whether more than 29 of the Saenuri Party’s 129 lawmakers would even agree to a vote.

In October 2016 embattled South Korean leader Park Geun-hye faced a political crisis that was rather difficult for Westerners to understand, since much of the controverial activity seemed normal by American standards. The scandal erupted after cable channel journalists JTBC pulled out of the garbage bin of one of the hotels in Seoul a tablet computer, which stored 200 secret documents from 2012-2014, including 44 draft President's speeches. The files contained major changes and had dates earlier than those in which these speeches afterwards were given by the head of state. As it turned out, the tablet belonged to a friend - Choi Sung Sil. She, the investigators suggested, had for a long time actually taken part in the Government without any public office.

It was claimed that that President Park let longtime friend Choi Soon-sil enjoy inappropriate influence over the presidency. The opposition believed that the situation is much more serious. "Choi Sung Sil told the president that North Korea will collapse in two years," said chairman of the opposition Democratic Party faction U San Ho. "This woman, as it turns out, was a shaman, a fortune-teller. If it is confirmed that the foreign policy Pak guided her predictions, we are in big trouble."

Choi Soon-sil was given access to confidential government documents, including first drafts of policy speeches. Alleged wrongdoings committed by Choi involve her interference with the appointments of ministers, the shutdown of the inter-Korean factory park in Kaesong, the privatization of two non-profit foundations and pressures on a prestigious university to get her daughter granted special treatment. She also allegedly used her links to the presidency for financial gain, pressuring companies into donating tens of millions of dollars to non-profit foundations she controls. Presidential aides were accused of allegedly helping or at least tolerating Ms Choi’s alleged meddling in state affairs.

Choi, who held no official position in the government, is believed to have exerted regular influence over Ms Park’s decision-making between December 2012 and March 2014. This included subjects ranging from Seoul’s policy towards North Korea to the appointment of presidential staff and government posts. According to Korean-language media reports, Ms Choi offered counsel to Ms Park on a wide array of issues, from what color clothes to wear to how she could contact her dead mother.

With the scandal Park's popularity plummet to an all-time low. According to a Gallup Korea poll released on 28 October 2016, after Park issued a 90-second apology days earlier, public rage snowballed and her approval rating nosedived to 14 percent, the lowest ever. The approval rating in Park’s political strongholds of Daegu and North Gyeongsang plunged to 19 percent, and older voters, considered key supporters of Park, also withdrew their backing. The Saenuri Party’s approval rating was 26 percent in the latest survey, the lowest ever since the Park administration was launched. The Minjoo Party of Korea recorded 29 percent, beating the ruling party for the first time since February 2013. The abrupt collapse of her ironclad approval rating – which had remained steady despite a variety of unfavorable developments - showed just how severe and overwhelming a crisis she faced. Meanwhile, 42.3 percent of respondents in another Realmeter survey that polled 532 people said President Park should resign or be impeached to take responsibility for the controversy, while 21.5 percent favored carrying out an extensive reshuffle of her senior secretaries and Cabinet.

Choi had no government post but is nevertheless alleged to have had enormous sway over the president's policy decisions. The 60-year old friend of the president, who was seen as an elusive, Rasputin-like figure in South Korea, was accused of wielding influence in policy and personnel decisions and being involved in illicit business practices tied to two private foundations which, some argued, were to be used as the basis of the president's post-retirement activities.

Doubts remain about prosecutors' investigation into the Choi Soon-sil scandal as she was arrested belatedly. Many South Koreans believed that time was enough for Choi to destroy evidence given that months had passed since the allegations surrounding her surfaced in media reports. When investigators stormed offices of the two foundations presumably controlled by Choi, the offices were almost empty, TV footage showed. All of computers in the K-Sports foundation were reportedly replaced.

Park issued a public apology in which she admitted giving Choi access to draft speeches for editing. The televised address sparked huge criticism about her leadership style and mismanagement of national information. In central Seoul on 29 October 2016, an estimated 30,000 citizens joined a mass demonstration, jointly organized by several civic groups. Civic groups have called for criminal charges to be brought against her aides and others who helped release government documents to Choi. Amid the growing controversy and public outrage over President Park Geun-hye's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, on 29 October 2016 the president ordered all ten of her senior secretaries to step down. Mired in the largest political scandal it ever faced, the president was under enormous pressure to dismiss key aides and Cabinet ministers to turn over a new leaf.

Widely criticized as the three door knobs to the president who have aided her since 1998, Private Presidential Secretary Jeong Ho-seong, Secretary for General Affairs Lee Jae-man and PR Secretary Ahn Bong-geun were also blamed for their parts in the current scandal. One of the three secretaries is suspected of bringing the copies of confidential presidential reports, including Park's schedule for overseas trip and secret military contacts with the DPRK under former President Lee Myung-bak, daily to Choi for review. The senior presidential advisor on policy coordination has been accused of pressuring conglomerates into donating tens of millions of U.S. dollars into recently established nonprofit foundations controlled by Choi.

November 2016

Three opposition parties in South Korea on 03 November 2016 submitted a motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye. The motion was expected to be laid before the plenary session of the National Assembly on 08 December 2016, and put to a vote the following day. If impeached, Park would be immediately suspended from office and the prime minister would act as the interim head of government. The Constitutional Court would have to first review the impeachment motion, which could take up to 180 days. If the motion is approved, lawmakers would then have 60 days to schedule a new election.

The motion cited an influence-peddling scandal involving the president's long-time friend, Choi Soon-sil. The motion says Park disrupted the market system by forcing companies to donate funds for the benefit of Choi and others. It also referred to Park's handling of the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, saying she failed to take active measures for the lives and safety of the people. The motion says these actions violate the Constitution.

Opposition leaders earlier indicated they had the two-thirds majority support needed in the 300-member National Assembly to impeach the president. To reach the 200-vote threshold, the two main opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Korea and the People's Party, which hold 159 seats in parliament, will need support from a number of independent legislators and disaffected members of the ruling Saenuri Party. Lawmakers of the governing Saenuri Party said there's no need for impeachment if Park announced she will step down at the end of April 2017. But non-Park members in the party planned to vote for the motion unless Park announced by 6 PM Wednesday 07 December 2016 when she intended to resign.

Lawmakers from the Saenuri Party backed a plan to meet the conditions for her resignation set by Park — specifically, that the National Assembly first arrange for a stable transfer of power. That could include naming a new prime minister and other interim officials to run the government after she resigned and until a newly elected president was sworn in. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had widely been considered a top contender to replace Park before the scandal erupted.

By November 2016 expectations were high for forming a so-called "third playground", with neutral political figures from both ruling and opposition parties gathering in a third place for the 2017 presidential election. The possibility remained for part of Saenuri members to bolt from the embattled party and join the third bloc. Traditional supporters for President Park turned their backs rapidly. Park's approval rating dropped to a single-digit number for the first time during her four years in power. Most noticeable was an alienation of those in their 60s or above living in southeastern South Korea. According to a Naeil Shinmun newspaper survey conducted on 31 October 2015, over 80 percent of respondents said the presidential personnel reshuffle will not contain public uproar, while about two-thirds of respondents agreed on the resignation of President Park.

On 02 November 2016 the presidential office announced the nomination of former President Roh Moo-hyun's chief policy adviser Kim Byong-joon as the new prime minister. Kim stressed that a collapse of the state governance must be prevented. Presidential officials said that he will become what they called the "internal affairs president." President Park's designation of a liberal prime minister could mark the beginning of a politically neutral cabinet, in which the new prime minister would have greater power over domestic affairs and the head of state would focus on external affairs, including diplomacy and defense.

A presidential official said that the nominee will be able to stage the politics of his own color and many of the administration's policies can be overturned. He was former chief policy secretary of late former President Roh Moo-hyun, her previous archrival. Prime minister nominee Kim Byong-joon vowed to fully exercise his authority to create a bipartisan, neutral Cabinet in close consultation with the opposition camp. The new layout of the Park Geun-hye administration emerged 03 November 2016 as the president tapped the former chief of staff to late former President Kim Dae-jung to serve the same post again under her administration. The former four-term lawmaker served as the chairman of the New Millennium Democratic Party, which has become the current main opposition Democratic Party.

Park named journalist-turned-politician Hur Won-je as her chief political affairs secretary. President Park has also named former vice minister of Gender Equality & Family, Park Seung-joo, to serve as the new minister for Public Safety and Security, based on a recommendation from the new prime minister nominee.

But the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said the Presidential Office hadn't changed in its lack of communication with the parliament and the opposition bloc. Democratic Party (DP) Spokesman Keum Tae-sup strongly criticized Park's latest personnel decision, calling Han a "scarecrow chief of staff." Political opponents of President Park Geun-hye had harsh words for President Park's Prime Minister-designate, Kim Byong-joon, and vowed to block his confirmation. The main opposition Democratic Party Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae said Kim's nomination was in total disregard of the National Assembly. Minor opposition People’s Party Floor Leader Park Jie-won said that the only way the president can survive the current situation is to appoint a prime minister through a meeting of the ruling and the two opposition parties.

Park Geun-hye, said 08 November 016 she will allow the country's parliament to select a new prime minister, a major political concession as she sought to survive a growing political scandal. President Park announced her decision after meeting with Chung Sye-kyun, the speaker of South Korea's opposition-controlled National Assembly. In addition to allowing parliament select a new prime minister, Park also agreed to allow that person control of the cabinet. A new Gallup poll of voter opinion shows the president had plunged to an anemic five percent approval rating.

A question-and-answer session was held at the National Assembly on 11 November 2016 against the prime minister and other state council members over the Choi Soon-sil scandal. Opposition lawmakers at the session raised various allegations related to the influence-peddling scandal, including suspicions that President Park Geun-hye had a mobile phone under a borrowed name to communicate with her friend Choi Soon-sil. Lawmakers also questioned Cabinet ministers if the president's friend intervened in the government's policy decisions related to weapons procurement and the shutdown of the inter-Korean Gaeseong Industrial Complex earlier this year. Lawmakers also pressed the Cabinet to clarify rumors related to the whereabouts of the president during the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Over 1 million South Koreans staged peaceful rallies across central Seoul on 12 November 2016 to demand President Park Geun-hye step down over the scandal involving her longtime confidante and former aides. Organizers estimated that the number of participants in the rally, the third since the scandal came into focus last month, topped 1 million in Seoul alone, according to local media reports. A week earlier, some 200,000 people turned out in the capital city. It would be the country's largest mass rally at least since June 1987 when about 1 million demonstrators gathered to ouster the military dictatorship. In 2008, some 700,000 protested against then-President Lee Myung-bak who resumed US beef imports during the outbreak of mad cow disease. Police said around 260,000 people turned out in Seoul, beating its earlier expectation of up to 170,000. Police estimates are usually far lower than figures released by organizers as it does not include people coming back home after early participation.

Saenuri Party Spokesman Yeom Dong-yeol said 12 November 2016 that following the public rally, parties must return to parliament to discuss forming a neutral Cabinet, recommending a new prime minister and arranging talks between top political leaders. The non-pro-Park faction rejected the chair's decision and called on the party leadership to immediately resign. They also issued a statement saying they would forge ahead to dissolve the party and recommended a public vote on whether President Park Geun-hye should stay in office. Saenuri's former chief and potential presidential candidate, Kim Moo-sung, went so far as to say that President Park should face impeachment.

Opposition parties had been slow to raise the possibility of impeaching the President, purportedly in fear that her resignation could negatively affect their own election chances for the 2017 presidential elections. Main opposition Democratic Party Spokesman Youn Kwan-suk meanwhile said that President Park had lost the trust and qualification to lead. He said she must transfer all powers in order to normalize state affairs. The Democratic Party of Korea said the president must now listen to the people and the only solution is for President Park to step down. The party also called for establishing a parliamentary committee to deal with the current political emergency and to outline a roadmap to a peaceful and safe resignation of the president.

Minor opposition People's Party Spokesman Son Kum-ju said the Constitution had been violated due to President Park's blunders. Son said the president should respond to the public's call and voluntarily step down."The left-wing Justice Party said parliament should prepare a motion to impeach President Park and called on the opposition bloc to hold a meeting soon to discuss the matter.

The prosecution summoned chiefs of the country’s conglomerates to question them about one-on-one meetings with President Park Geun-hye in relation to donations they made to two controversial foundations - Mir and K-Sports foundations - controlled by Park’s scandal-ridden confidant, Choi Soon-sil. The president had invited 17 local conglomerate leaders to the presidential office for lunch on 24 July 2015 and asked them to extend support for creating two foundations to promote the spread of the “hallyu” or the Korean wave around the world. Park reportedly held separate one-on-one meetings with seven of the leaders the day of the Cheong Wa Dae meeting and the following day at the top office and other locations.

The wing of the ruling Saneuri Party that doesn't support President Park Geun-hye launched its own committee 16 November 2016. Twelve members-- including former party chair Kim Moo-sung and former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon -- plan to discuss ways to overhaul the party and stabilize the current situation. They also called on the current Saenuri leadership to resign immediately.

The parliamentary judiciary committee began reviewing a bill that would allow for an independent counsel probe into the Choi Soon-sil scandal. The bill was signed by 209 lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties, but the committee failed to pass the bill, due to differing opinions on the independent counsel recommendation. If the bill is passed, a team will be formed consisting of an independent counsel, four assistant prosecutors, 20 dispatched prosecutors and 40 special investigators. The investigation period will last for a maximum of 120 days. Lawmakers also agreed to a separate parliamentary probe into the case, with a team of 18 lawmakers and a investigative period of up to 90 days.

President Park was back to the business of presiding over state affairs, despite the scandal that's roiling her administration and the country. Eight days after a summit with the president of Kazakhstan, President Park made her first official appearance 18 November 2016 , demonstrating that her place in the top office is still intact. President Park conferred appointment letters on to new government officials, including her chief of staff, new vice ministers and new ambassadors to be sent overseas.

Rallies were held for the fourth weekend in a row in 46 locations nationwide on 19 November 2016 demanding the president's resignation over the Choi Soon-sil scandal. According to police and civic groups, some 1,500 civic and social organizations came together for the rallies. Organizers estimated some 500,000 demonstrators would gather in Seoul and one million nationwide.

Korea's three opposition parties urged the President to resign. The presidential office dismissed the idea of President Park stepping down, despite growing calls for her resignation nationwide. The top office was firm on its view that it would be unconstitutional for the president to abandon her post, and said she is committed to fulfilling her responsibilities.

South Korean prosecutors said 20 November 2016 they believe President Park Geun-hye conspired with a secretive confidante who allegedly manipulated government affairs and exploited her presidential ties to amass an illicit fortune. The damning revelation came as prosecutors indicted Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil on suspicion of interfering with state affairs and bullying companies into giving tens of millions of dollars to foundations she controlled. The main opposition Democratic Party said on Sunday that the grounds for impeaching President Park Geun-hye had been met after the prosecution announced that the president played a role in the corruption and influence-peddling scandal. The minor opposition People’s Party also said that with the probe results, the grounds for impeaching the president had been met.

On 27 Novemer 2016, a group of former parliamentary speakers, retired prime ministers and religious leaders called on Park to resign by April at the latest. While pressing the president, the group also advised lawmakers to create an environment that will allow her to exit the office in an honorable manner. On 28 Novemer 2016, Rep. Suh Chung-won, former Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan and six other pro-Park lawmakers delivered to the president that it would be a better option for her to honorably resign before being impeached.

Korea's opposition bloc vowed to go ahead with their original plan to impeach the president. The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said immediate resignation is the only way for the president to get state affairs back on track. Considering the opposition parties' strong reactions, and the similarly critical responses by Saenuri lawmakers who are known to be from the non-President Park faction, it seemed like the prospect of delaying or cancelling the president's impeachment was unlikely.

Without using the words impeachment or resignation, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on 29 November 2016 expressed her willingness to step down from office in an orderly manner, once and if the National Assembly passes a measure requiring her to do so. "I will leave my future course of action, including the shortening of my presidential term, to the decision of the National Assembly,” Park said during a hastily scheduled televised address to the nation. She also added what seemed to be vague conditions and an uncertain timeline to her exit, saying she would “leave my presidential position according to the schedule and legal procedure,” and in accordance with measures to be developed by the ruling and opposition parties to “minimize the chaos and gap in state affairs, and to stably transfer power."

December 2016

On 09 December 2016, South Korean lawmakers approved an impeachment motion against President Park Geun-hye. The measure was passed by a margin of 234 votes for, 56 against, two abstentions, and seven ballots considered spoilt.

As a result of the vote, President Park Geun-hye's duties were temporarily transferred to the country's Prime Minister, until South Korea's Constitutional Court decides within the following 180 days on whether to validate or reject the motion and end President Park's term.

On 09 December 2016 the National Assembly voted 234 to 56 in favor of the impeachment motion. Two lawmakers abstained and seven votes were invalidated. A total of 299 lawmakers out of the total 300 attended the session. Representative Choi Kyung-hwan of the ruling Saenuri Party, a confidant of President Park, attended the voting session, but did not cast a vote. A total of 172 opposition and independent lawmakers were vocal in their support for impeachment, which meant at least 62 Saenuri lawmakers must have joined them in backing the motion.

The passage of the motion meant President Park’s duties as the chief executive were suspended, leaving Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn in charge as acting president. South Korea's Constitutional Court now had six months to rule whether Park must leave office altogether, or whether she should be reinstated as president. Park was only the second president to be impeached since the South Korean government was established in 1948. Former President Roh Moo-hyun was reinstated to presidency after the Constitutional Court rejected his 2004 impeachment.

The successful impeachment motion accused Park of violating the Constitution on a number of different counts. It said she allowed close aides, and confidant Choi Soon-sil, to intervene in policies and to exercise influence in Cabinet meetings. It said she forced private companies to pay bribes. And it said she neglected a constitutional duty to protect lives during the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014.

Cho Won-dong, a former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs under President Park, was charged by prosecutors 10 December 2016 for allegedly working with Park in an attempt to force the CEO of a Seoul-based conglomerate to quit. Cho was accused of demanding that CJ Group Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik to dismiss the group's vice-chairwoman, threatening that otherwise the group would face "big problems". Cho was charged with "attempted" coercion because CJ Group did not respond to his demand. Lee Mi-kyung raised the ire of the president because CJ’s media arm produced a number of movies deemed to be liberal or left-wing.

Prosecutors also indicted Kim Chong, a former vice culture minister, on charges of working together with Choi Soon-sil, colluding with officials to extort money and favors from South Korea's biggest companies. The prosecution also found that former presidential secretary Jeong Ho-seong leaked a total of a-hundred-and-80 official documents to Choi Soon-sil, including papers related to the nomination of top officials and confidential documents on the nation's security and foreign policies.

The National Assembly's impeachment motion explains that the president has failed to be the servant of the entire people, to secure people's property rights and abide by the constitution citing allegations of her long-time confidant Choi Soon-sil interfering in state affairs and funneling funds from corporate entities. The motion also lists bribery, abuse of authority and coercion as what President Park has violated in terms of criminal law.

The Constitutional Court has up to six months to either uphold or overturn the motion. But two justices will see their terms expire in February and March 2017, respectively, so this may act as a variable. Out of the nine justices, six are considered as conservatives, two are in favor of the opposition, and one is seen as neutral. At least six of the nine justices must rule in favor for the president to be impeached, and they will be required to make their decision public. Justices at the constitutional court will firstly examine whether she violated the basic principles of constitutional law, and then, the other issues will be whether she violated basic principles of other laws not minor issues.. but in terms of big, and significant, important issues. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who became South Korea's acting president, reported to work at the Seoul Government Complex on 10 December 2016 and focused on pending state affairs. In a meeting with deputy prime ministers and key ministers, Hwang said the financial and foreign exchange markets have been relatively calm and that no particular moves have yet been detected in North Korea. But he urged all public officials not to lower their guard and focus on their duties. He said that as acting president, he will put top priority on national security, the economy and public safety. Hwang also said that national security is the most important and urgent task. He stressed that through various diplomatic channels, South Korea must maintain its level of trust in foreign relations with other countries, especially key allies, through sufficient briefings on the steadiness in state affairs in Seoul.

If the court affirmed the legitimacy of the impeachment motion, a new presidential election will be scheduled within two months of the ruling. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon consistently ranked first in various opinion polls about who is the most qualified for the presidency. In the governing Saenuri Party, Chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who secured a seat in Yeongdo, Busan; and Yoo Seong-min, who was elected as an independent in Daegu after leaving the ruling party, were mentioned as potential candidates. Yoo quit the ruling party 23 March 2016 after failing to be nominated for the election due to his conflict with President Park's loyalists who dominated the nominations committee.

Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) was a presidential hopeful. Other presidential runners include Rep. Kim Boo-kyum from the MPK, and MPK interim leader Kim Chong-in. Moon is considered a leader of the pro-Roh faction - he served as chief of staff under the Roh administration. Kim Chong-in represents a new face of the party. Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party, who ran in the 2012 presidential election as an independent candidate, has been mentioned as one of the leading liberal runners for the next presidential poll.

On 28 December 2016 the independent counsel team's spokesperson Lee Kyu-chul said they had asked the Financial Supervisory Service to hand over information on the personal assets of Choi Soon-sil, the jailed confidante of President Park, and 40 of her associates. Lee said the team cannot disclose the selection criteria used for the 40 people.

The counsel planned to summon Korean Ambassador to France Mo Chul-min for questioning after his return to Korea. Mo was suspected of involvement in connection to allegations that the Park administration compiled a blacklist of artists and cultural figures critical of the president and then sent it to the culture ministry. Mo was serving as the presidential senior secretary for education and culture in 2014, when it's suspected the list was compiled.

The counsel also questioned Kim Sang-ryul, President Park's former senior secretary for education and culture, on the same matter. Kim is the uncle of Cha Eun-taek, a former music video director and a friend of Choi Soon-sil.

The team detained Moon Hyung-pyo, who is the chief of the National Pension Service, on suspicions he pressured the NPS to green-light a controversial merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. NPS is the main shareholder of Samsung C&T. The merger was completed last year during Moon's term as Korea's health minister. Moon denied the charge.

As the independent counsel continued its probe into various aspects of the presidential corruption scandal, it was moving forward with its investigation into possible attempts to cover up the so-called "cultural blacklist." Key figures who had previously testified as witnesses were called back as suspects. Kim Jong-deok, the former culture minister, and Kim Sang-ryul, a former presidential secretary for education and culture, were questioned on their involvement in the making and running of the blacklist. The blacklist refers to a secret list of cultural figures that had criticized the President Park's administration and were subsequently denied sponsorship or recommendations. The former culture minister had denied any knowledge of such a list at a parliamentary hearing, but his claims csme under suspicion and he was charged with perjury.

Interim Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi announced the impeachment verdict of President Park Geun-hye as scheduled on 10 March 2017 saying the decision by the eight justices was unanimous. "The respondent President Park Geun-hye is expelled from office. The respondent has violated the responsibility to diligently carry out her duty as stipulated in the Constitution." Chief Justice Lee said it was unconstitutional for Park to have let her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, a civilian with no official government position, meddle in state affairs, and that Park abused her power to collude with Choi to extort money from conglomerates.

South Korean prosecutors formally indicted ousted President Park Geun-hye on bribery charges in a high-profile corruption scandal. The prosecutors' office made the indictment 17 APril 2017, sending her case to a criminal court.

Choi Soon-sil, the close confidante of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye, on June 23, 2017 got a three-year prison term for one of her corruption charges involving her daughter. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Choi, 61, to three years' imprisonment for soliciting illicit favors for her daughter to enter a prestigious college and earn effortless grades. It was the first conviction among several legal cases embroiling Choi and the ousted president Park. Other cases are still under trial. Three more college officials, including the former head of the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, were sentenced to a suspended sentence, one and a half years in prison and two years' imprisonment.

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Page last modified: 25-06-2017 18:26:35 ZULU