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Rising from the Ashes
[ Issue 150 Page 9 ] Friday, November 25, 2016, 15:56:46 Sejoon Huh Assistant Editor sejoonhuh@kaist.ac.kr

     Investigation into the allegations started October 26, when the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office raided nine locations linked to Soon- sil Choi, including her residence and the headquarters of the FKI and the two foundations associated with Choi. They also looked into other allegations surrounding the political scandal, such as Yoo-ra Chung’s admittance to Ewha Womans University, and corruption in The Blue K and other corporations. However, no arrests were made then, as Choi and other suspects such as Eun-taek Cha, a famous music video director and TV commercial producer that allegedly used his connections with Choi to gain great power in the film industry and hold several powerful positions — joining the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment in August 2014 and named director for the Creative Economy Initiative — were outside of the country. On the following day, in an interview with Segye Times, Choi admitted to editing President Park’s speeches but denied other allegations, and cited her poor health for not being able to return back to Korea immediately.

     The investigation continued with questionings of FKI Vice Chairman Seung Cheol Lee and former secretary general of Mir Foundation Sung-han Lee; searches were also conducted at the MCST and the residences of the board members of Choi’s foundations. On October 30, Choi returned to Korea; however, no arrest was made, with Choi stating she needed more rest for her health complications. She was given 31 hours before prosecutors detained her without a warrant, resulting in a 48-hour period to decide whether to officially arrest her, on fears that she tampered with evidence. Why she was not arrested at the airport on the day of her return, when such arrests have been made in the past such as during the BBK stock scandal during former President Myung-bak Lee’s term and would happen later for Cha’s arrest on November 8, is unknown. Later, it was also discovered that Choi withdrew a total of 500 million KRW during that 31- hour period. Choi continued to deny all allegations besides editing the president’s speeches.

     On November 2, Ahn was also summoned for questioning. The warrant for Choi’s arrest was issued the following day. Ho-seong Jeong, the former private secretary for the president, was also detained for allegedly leaking state documents to Choi. On November 4, President Park, in her address to the nation, stated that she would agree to any questioning and do her best to help the investigation; she also expressed her regrets, denied having any connection to Choi’s crimes, and explained her actions with a personal story about the despair that surrounded her family — both her parents, who were former president and first lady, were assassinated. However, there was no mention of a resignation. On November 6, the Seoul Central District Court issued two warrants for Ahn and Jeong; Woo was also detained.

     As the investigation continued, there seemed to be no end to the corruption despite denial from most of the aforementioned defendants. A recording of a phone conversation between President Park and Jeong, in which the president ordered Jeong to send classified documents to Choi, was discovered. Posco, Daerim Corporation, Hyundai Motors, Samsung Electronics, CJ, LG, Hanwha, SK, Lotte, KT Corporation, and various others were all investigated for their donations. “Greatpark1819”, the email address that Jeong used to forward government documents to Choi, was discovered on Choi’s tablet PC. Allegations of Chung’s illegal admittance to Ewha Womans University and the favoritism that ran rampant throughout Chung’s academic and athletic career turned out to be true. It was revealed Cha and Ahn pressured corporations to sign trades and deals with corporations associated with Choi, and new warrants were also issued for members of Choi’s family on charges of embezzlement. Ahn eventually confessed that the president ordered him to pressure corporations for Choi’s monetary gain.

     On November 20, President Park, Ahn, Choi, and Jeong were all indicted. Ahn and Choi were charged with abuse of authority and attempted coercion for their crime of forcing 53 corporations to donate a total of 77.4 billion KRW to the Mir Foundation and the K-Sports Foundation, while Jeong was charged with leaking government secrets to Choi. President Park was charged with bribery for allegedly ordering the other three to commit their crimes. However, despite her previous statements in her November address, a Blue House spokesperson stated that the president would no longer comply with the investigation and now plans to wait for the results of an official impeachment trial or the investigation of the impartial independent counsel, which is currently being established after a bill for its formation was passed last Tuesday.

     With the ongoing investigation and the president’s callous indifference to the scandal and the voices of the people, public outrage is inevitable. However, we must make sure to channel our thundering cries of discontent into productive, positive change for the future. Just like how a phoenix combusts when it dies, only to rise once again from the ashes, Korea, just like it always has throughout its political history, must overcome the corruption and reestablish democracy in this great nation.

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