International review Investigation

Corruption scandal in South Korea: The story

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2016 file photo, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions carry an effigy of South Korean President Park Geun-hye as they march during a rally calling for Park to step down in Seoul, South Korea. The jailed confidante of the disgraced president begins a trial Monday, Dec. 19 that will explore a scandal that led to Park's impeachment after millions took to the streets in protest. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

The biggest corruption scandal in South Korean history unfolded during 2016 and resulted in Park Geun-hey being impeached in December. On March 10, 2017 Supreme Court confirmed the parliamentary vote, enacting the first mandatory transfer of executive power since the democratic elections were established in this Asian country.

Park Geun-hey. Source: New Eastern Outlook.

Park Geun-hey was charged with several accounts of corruption and abuse of power. The investigation revealed that Korean president engaged in extortion, mismanagement of authority and divulged official secrets to a third party. In March 2017, following the Supreme Court confirmation of impeachment, Park was convicted. The prosecution stated that already former president was advised by her former classmate regarding everything, governmental affairs included. This former classmate was no other than Choi Soon-sil, whose father Choi Tae-min founded a cult called Yongsae-gyo (영세교) or “Church of Eternal Life”. Choi Tae-min was Park’s mentor until his death in 1994, after which Choi Soon-sil allegedly filled his place. The president was absolutely sure that her close friend possessed supernatural powers such as premonition and Choi Soon-sil declared herself a messiah only to use this status for enrichment purposes.

Choi Soon-sil during her arrest. Source: ABS-CBN NEWS.

The fact of criminal activity by the former president and her friend was discovered accidentally. The servicemen took Park’s old computer that contained secret governmental documents to the dump. JTBC journalists found and fixed it, so they obtained the data. By Autumn 2016 the reporters leaked every detail.

During the interrogations the president admitted that she received consultations from her best friend on how to govern, but denied everything else. Choi Soon-sil consulted Park about her appearance (what to wear, which hairstyle to choose, etc.), but also redacted official governmental documents. Also, the investigation revealed that Park actively lobbied Samsung’s interest. The president and her friend enjoyed preferential service from the company and were given numerous assets in exchange for political favouritism.

Corruption investigation

The protests for and against Park Geun-hey, March 2017. Source: CNN.

During the aforementioned investigation the country divided in two: some people were asking for Park’s prosecution, while others demanded freedom for her.

When the Supreme Court was reaching a verdict following the impeachment vote in Parliament around 500 thousand of those against Park gathered near its building. Those in favour of soon to be former president also came and tried to break through the police cordon. Three people died and dozens were injured.

The investigation revealed that, with Park’s blessing, Choi Soon-sil created several funds and forced prominent Korean businessmen to donate money into them. Most donations went straight into Choi’s pocket. It is still unclear if the former president knew about that last bit.

The fortune-teller and shamanistic cult leader Choi was placed under arrest in November 2016. In January 2017 Interpol got hold of her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, who allegedly bribed the officials of Ehwa Womans University in order to get in and took money from Samsung to finance her horse-riding lessons. Investigators also think that Chung could be an accessory or even an accomplice to her mother’s crimes and suspect her of engaging in Choi’s fraudulent schemes. In May 2017 the 22 year old was transported to Seoul.

Park Geun-hey and Choi Soon-sil are held in the temporary detention center. The former president lost her immunity, granted by the Korean laws to the head of state, following the impeachment and is now liable to prosecution.

On 9th of May 2017 the South Korean nation went to election polls to choose their new president. They chose Moon Jae-in, who represents the Democratic Party of Korea. Ban Ki-moon former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations also nominated himself for this election and gained more than 40% of the vote.

Arrest of heirs to South Korean business empires

Lee Jae-yong being arrested. Source:

On Monday the 17th of April 2017 it was not only Park Geun-hey who appeared in court. The prosecution charged the head of South Korean business empire Lotte Group Shin Dong-bin with bribery. Shin now joins the heir to the Samsung throne Lee Jae-yong, who was convicted on corruption charges in February 2017.

The prosecutors believe that Park conspired with Choi and forced Shin to pay 7 million Von ($6.2 million) disguised as donations to one of the aforementioned Choi’s charity funds. Shin agreed on the condition that his company Lotte Group gets preferential treatment from the president: Lotte Group would receive a key governmental license to operate in the duty free zones.

The head of  Lotte Group Shin Dong-bin, September 2017. He then denied any wrongdoing. Source: CNN.

Both Shin and the Lotte Group deny any wrongdoing. In April Shin gave an interview to CNN, in which he stated that knows he’s innocent and does not think about jail time.

The spokesperson for Lotte Group admitted that the company donated money to certain funds after being asked “to cooperate in matters of national interest”, but strongly denied any involvement in illegal activities.

Lotte Group engages in various business ventures: from retail and hotel industries to chemicals.

Lee Jae-yong, who is the real head of Samsung, is already on trial, accompanied by company’s four executive officers. Unlike Lee, Shin won’t be spending his time in the temporary detention center awaiting trial. Shin and other members of his family, which stands behind Lotte Group, are already under other corruption investigations connected to their company.

Source: CNN.