A friendship that triggered protests in South Korea

Local media accused the country's president of being a puppet of a Shamanic cult, and that has angered many people.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Many South Koreans are calling for President Park Geun-hye to step down. This follows media reports claiming Soon-sil micromanaged the president and used her influence to strike murky business deals. Who is she?

Updated Nov 12, 2016

The cause 

Local media reported in early October that the president was secretly "managed" by Choi Soon-sil, who leads a church that preaches ancient shamanic belief. Soon-sil was accused of influencing the nominations of senior officials to the government. It was alleged that she used her friendship with the president to raise $70 million from multinational companies which she pocketed. This was especially inflammatory for many South Koreans because Park had won the presidential election with a campaign that focused strongly on anti-corruption rhetoric.

The response

The country's supreme court launched an independent probe into the alleged scandal, questioning Soon-sil on charges of corruption. The prosecutors also investigated whether Soon-sil had unauthorised access to classified documents on crucial foreign policy matters and was using that information for personal gains. 

Political wrangling

In the coming days, Park confirmed one of the allegations that Soon-sil edited her speeches. Rival political groups used the acknowledgement to back up their campaign calling for Park's resignation. 

The raid

The political scandal deepened when investigators raided the office of Samsung Electronics in Seoul on November 8. The electronics giant is accused of having funded one of Soon-sil's non-profit organisations as well as her daughter's sporting activities. 

The apology

As public outcry intensified, Park, whose term is due to end in February 2018, apologised to the nation for sharing "certain documents" with Soon-sil. She also called for changes to the constitution that would limit presidents to serve one term. Opposition lawmakers, however, described this as a tactic to try to divert attention from the scandal.