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Ask a Korean: The Irrational Downfall of Park Geun-hye wrote:President Park Geun-hye is in deep trouble. The stories have been out for a few days now, and even the English-language papers have caught on. Park's confidant has been running a massive slush fund, as she extorted more than $70 million from Korea's largest corporations. The confidant was receiving confidential policy briefings and draft presidential speeches--all on a totally unencrypted computer. The confidant rigged the college admission process so that her daughter, not known to be sharpest tool in the shed, would be admitted into the prestigious Ewha Womans University. That last bit turned out to be the first step toward the president's ruin, as Ewha students' protest over that preferential treatment developed into the larger investigation about the relationship between Park and her confidant, Choi Soon-sil.
But the English language coverage of this scandal is missing something. The newspapers do have most of the facts, which they recount diligently. But they fail to fully account for the Korean public's stunned disbelief. Although the scale of the corruption here is significant, Koreans have seen much, much worse.
Choi Tae-min met Park Geun-hye for the first time in 1975, when Park was 23. Park Geun-hye had just lost her mother, who was assassinated by a North Korean spy. (The spy was aiming for Park's father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, but missed and killed the first lady instead.) Shortly after the assassination, the elder Choi sent several letters to Park Geun-hye, claiming that the soul of Park's mother visited him, and Park could hear from her mother through him. Park invited Choi Tae-min to the presidential residence, and the elder Choi told her there that Park's mother did not truly die, but merely moved out of the way to open the path for Park Geun-hye. This was the beginning of the unholy relationship between Park Geun-hye and Choi's family, which included Choi Tae-min's daughter Soon-sil.
Once the elder Choi won Park Geun-hye's confidence, he leveraged the relationship to amass a fortune....Park Geun-hye would fiercely defend Choi, her spiritual guide and connection to her dead mother. In a Wikileaks cable from 2007 when Park Geun-hye first ran for president, the U.S. Ambassador for Korea noted: "Rumors are rife that the late pastor had complete control over Park's body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result."
Park Geun-hye became so dependent on Choi Tae-min that she would be estranged from her remaining family, her sister Park Geun-ryeong and her brother Park Ji-man. In 1990, Park's siblings went so far as to petition then-president Roh Tae-woo that their sister be "rescued" from Choi Tae-min's control.
Choi Tae-min died in 1994, at which point Park Geun-hye's confidence moved to Choi's daughter, Soon-sil.
As it turned out, Choi Soon-sil owned Park Geun-hye just as much as her father did... Every day, Choi would receive a huge stack of policy briefs from the presidential residence to discuss with her inner circle--an illustrious group that included Choi's gigolo (no, really) and a K-pop music video director (I'm serious.) Choi would receive ultra-confidential information detailing secret meetings between South and North Korean military authorities.
The major breakthrough occurred on October 24, when a cable TV network JTBC discovered a Galaxy Tab belonging to Choi Soon-sil in the office that she abandoned. The tablet was the Pandora's Box--it had the presidential speeches with Choi's markups, presidential briefs for cabinet meetings, appointment information for presidential aides, chat messages with presidential aides, the president's vacation schedule, draft designs for commemorative stamps featuring the president, and much, much more. The discovery of the tablet was worthy of "World's Dumbest Criminals"--the tablet was simply left behind in Choi's office with no encryption, and the files were available for anyone to open. And just in case Choi Soon-sil denied ownership of the tablet, its image gallery contained her selfie.
The president's approval rating plummeted to around 17 percent, with more than 40 percent of the respondents demanding resignation or impeachment. Even conservative newspapers like Chosun Ilbo, which has been reliably in Park's corner throughout her administration, has issued daily editorials demanding the Prime Minister and the entire cabinet to resign.
At first, there was a tiny bit of perverse relief, as all the bizarre actions of Park Geun-hye administration suddenly began to make sense....Ohhhh, the relief went. Now it all makes sense.
But this brief relief soon gave way to the terrifying realization: actually, it does not make sense. None of this makes any sense.