Park's Ties to Crony Date Back to Her 20s

  • By Jeong Si-haeng

    October 27, 2016 11:08

    President Park Geun-hye's ties to a crony at the heart of a mounting corruption scandal date back some 40 years.

    Choi Soon-sil, who has no official government position, is suspected of helping to shape every aspect of Park's administration, from the trivial to the serious, and of influence peddling.

    She has been Park's de facto personal secretary and companion since the president was in her early 20s. Since Park is largely estranged from her siblings, Choi appears to be her closest confidante.

    Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil (left) attend an event at Hanyang University in this file photo from June 10, 1979.

    Choi met Park in the mid-1970s through her father Choi Tae-min, who mentored Park when she was the de facto first lady following the assassination of her mother by a North Korean agent.

    Park went into a period of isolation after the death of her father, President Park Chung-hee, in 1979, and it was during those years that Park and Choi became close. When they met again in 1985, Choi began to refer to Park as her older sister, according to some witnesses. Sources say Choi has been picking out Park's clothes and accessories ever since.

    But Choi appears to have been more than just a personal secretary or confidante and in the 1980s became deeply involved in Park's organizations and undertakings, sources say.

    As Park rose to political prominence, Choi opted to stay out of the spotlight, although her ex-husband, Chung Yun-hoi, served as Park's chief secretary since 1996. He lost the job after the couple divorced.

    Choi is often referred to as the chairwoman of the dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations she set up even though she held no formal titles. She is suspected of drumming up huge amounts of money for the foundations from big businesses by trading on her ties to Park. Cheong Wa Dae regularly sent a Choi aide resumes of candidates for public office, suggesting she had a finger in every pie.

    Choi Soon-sil is on her way home in this screen grab from July.

    Choi Tae-min had six wives and nine children, of whom Soon-sil was the fifth. She married a man from Daegu in 1982 when she was 26 but divorced him four years later. In 1996, she married Chung, who was her father's assistant, and had a daughter, Yoo-ra. Choi divorced Chung in May 2014.

    She is said to be close to her four sisters, and the family's wealth is split up among those women. They own hundreds of billions of won worth of assets.

    Choi declared W36.5 billion worth of assets during her divorce from Chung (US$1=W1,135). She owns two buildings in Sinsa-dong worth W20 billion and W8.5 billion each, as well as W3 billion worth of real estate in Yeoksam-dong and billions of won worth of property in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province and Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province.

    She also has billions worth of assets in Germany and other foreign countries.

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