SEOUL: The woman at the heart of a political scandal engulfing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye reportedly returned to the country Sunday to face accusations of influence peddling and meddling in state affairs.
With just over a year left to run, Park’s presidency has unraveled over shocking revelations that she discussed and sought advice on government policy from Choi Soon-Sil, a close personal friend with no official position and no security clearance.
Choi, who has been holed up in Germany since early September, flew into Seoul early Sunday morning on a flight from London, broadcaster YTN reported, citing Seoul prosecutors.
As well as a public uproar over her relationship with, and apparent control over Park, she faces charges of using her links with the president to strong-arm major companies like Samsung into donating large sums to two non-profit foundations she set up.
Over the past week, the media has been full of increasingly sensational reports regarding Choi, the 60-year-old daughter of a shadowy religious leader and one-time Park mentor.
Invoking a lurid back-story of religious cults, shamanist rituals and corruption, the reports have portrayed Choi as a Rasputin-like figure whose influence extended to vetting presidential speeches and advising on key appointments and policy issues.
A public apology by Park, in which she acknowledged seeking limited advice from Choi, has done nothing to assuage public outrage over the president’s behavior or halt a plunge in her approval ratings to record lows.
More than 10,000 people took to streets of Seoul on Saturday evening, calling on Park to resign and for Choi to be prosecuted.
Choi is the daughter of the late Choi Tae-Min, who married six times, had multiple pseudonyms and set up his own religious group known as the Church of Eternal Life.
Choi Tae-Min first befriended a traumatized Park after the 1974 assassination of her mother, who he said had appeared to him in a dream, asking him to help her daughter.
Park Geun-Hye subsequently formed a close bond with Choi Soon-Sil that endured after Choi Tae-Min’s death in 1994.
Choi Soon-Sil’s ex-husband served as a top aide to Park until her presidential election victory in 2012.