When South Korea elected Park Geun-hye as its first female president in December 2012, I was pretty amazed; until 1990, Korean law did not allow women to be head of the household or have equal inheritance rights. And yet just 22 years later, they had a woman president. I really thought the worst fate awaiting Park was that people were going to make sexist remarks or criticize her hair or clothes. Ha. If only.
Little did anyone know at the time that three years into her term, Park would face impeachment for her involvement in perhaps the most delicious corruption scandal of any developed-world democracy in recent memory. This may be the first time that a president's misdeeds had no apparent benefit to the president at all. There was no Machiavellian intent on her part, no trysts with interns. Don't get me wrong — there was hella sex and money involved, including $70 million worth of extortion, a $3 million dressage horse, and a gigolo from a male brothel — but Park was not the beneficiary of those. The reaper of those rewards was Park's "friend" and confidante of four decades, a Ms. Choi Soon-shil (Choi being the family name, not the first name).
Park's fatal flaw was not greed or sex; rather, it was a lifetime of loneliness, early exposure to a cult, and an addiction to a very strange, very bad woman.
Choi Soon-shil had no educational or professional qualifications other than being the daughter of a famous cult leader, yet she had in her slavish thrall the president of one of the world's largest economies. And that's what the Korean public can't forgive. It's not the corruption and cronyism that bothers Koreans so much — Korea's seen much, much worse. It's that Park has made herself into a world laughingstock.
Koreans used to have a very protective view of Park. She was Korea's Caroline Kennedy, the eldest child of a slain president. In fact, both Park's parents were assassinated. Her father, Korea's longest-serving president, Park Chung-hee (who brought the nation from poverty to riches during his rule from 1961 to 1979), was shot dead in 1979; Park's mother was killed in 1974 in a botched attempt to get at her husband.
You could say that Park's downfall began after the death of her mother. The following year, in 1975, when she was 23, Park was approached by Choi Tae-min, Choi Soon-shil's father and the founder and head of the Church of Eternal Life. Choi Tae-min claimed that Park's deceased mother had been visiting him. Google Choi Tae-min and the first images that pop up are photos of Rasputin, the Russian mystic who was thought to have hypnotized the last czarina, Alexandra.
Choi's "church" was a strange amalgam of Fundamentalist Christianity and the ancient Korean occult practice of shamanism — basically, witchcraft. A few pig-burnings and séances later, Choi Tae-min was controlling Park in an attempt to get at her father.
In a diplomatic cable unearthed in 2007 by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul wrote that Choi "had complete control over Park [Geun-hye]'s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result."
The full extent of Choi Soon-shil's mental enslavement over Park first came to light on October 26, 2016, when a Korean news outlet called JTCB got a hold of Choi's Samsung Galaxy Tab, which had evidence of Choi's marking up and commenting on one of Park's important presidential speeches. Very stupidly, Choi reportedly tried to claim the tablet belonged not to her but to her aforementioned male prostitute friend Ko Young-tae. There were just two problems with that claim: (1) Choi's tablet was full of her own selfies; (2) Choi's drawing attention to Ko led to the latter's being apprehended by police. And boy, did he have stories to tell them.Choi Tae-min died in 1994, after which his daughter became the center of Park's universe.