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Shamanistic cult linked to president

Choo: ‘It’s not even a dictatorship - it’s a terrifying theocracy.’
Oct 28,2016
이미지뷰
Left: Choi Soon-sil, center left, then university student president of the New Heart Volunteer Group, talks to Park, right, at its inaugural festival in 1979. Park gave a congratulatory speech and Choi declared the opening of the event that day. Right: President Park Chung Hee, left, talks to Choi Tae-min, head of the Korea Salvation Mission, right, in 1976 at the group’s nighttime medical center. Park Geun-hye, then presidential daughter and honorary president of the mission, smiles at Choi. [JTBC, JOONGANG PHOTO]
Opposition politicians have raised suspicion that a cult was behind President Park Geun-hye’s oddly intimate relationship with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.

“This isn’t even a dictatorship,” Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, said Thursday. “It’s a terrifying theocracy.”

She added, “Park never communicated with the people. She never communicated with the public servants, vice ministers or ministers. She only had her spiritual communication with Choi.”

Park’s relationship with the scandal-ridden friend goes back decades. Choi, 60, is a daughter of the late Choi Tae-min, Park’s mentor. According to various records, Park and Choi Tae-min first met after the first lady, Yuk Young-soo, was assassinated in 1974. He wrote to her and claimed the late Yuk had appeared to him in his dreams and delivered a message to Park.

“Park has also been forced to explain her own past, including her relationship some 35 years ago with a pastor, Choi Tae-min, whom her opponents characterize as a ‘Korean Rasputin,’ and how he controlled Park during her time in the Blue House when she was first lady after her mother’s assassination,” a diplomatic cable by then U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said in 2007, before the presidential primary of Park’s party. It was a confidential report, but was made public by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Vershbow continued, “Perhaps even more damaging to her image as the maiden who sacrificed herself in the service of the nation upon the assassination of her mother, Park has been linked to the late Choi Tae-min, a charismatic pastor. 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.”

Born in 1912 in Hwanghae Province, Choi Tae-min reportedly worked as a policeman during the Japanese colonial period and became a Buddhist monk after Korea’s liberation. In the early 1970s, he established his own cult, Yeongsegyo, literally “Eternal Life,” by combining tenets of Buddhism, Christianity and Korea’s indigenous Confucian-shamanist movement, Cheondoism.

He created the Korea Salvation Mission in April 1975. Park attended its masses in subsequent months. In 1976, Park became the president of the New Heart Volunteer Group, established by Choi.

But Choi was questioned by Park’s father, President Park Chung-hee, in September 1977 based on the intelligence agency’s report of his corruption. Nevertheless, he managed to evade any criminal charges. Kim Jae-gyu, then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency who assassinated the strongman on Oct. 26, 1979, later wrote in his appeals that Park Chung-hee’s inaction against Choi was one of his motivations for assassinating him.

Choi Soon-sil, the fifth daughter of Choi Tae-min, first met Park Geun-hye as the university student president of the volunteer group. She left for Germany in 1979 to study and returned to Korea in 1985.

The Choi family gained media attention in 1986 when Park’s little sister, Geun-ryeong, wrote a letter to the Blue House to expose their abuse of power over a nonprofit foundation for children’s welfare a legacy of her late mother. “Choi is a crook and he should be sternly punished and my sister Park Geun-hye should be saved from his capture,” she wrote at the time. Choi Tae-min died in 1994, but rumors spread that his daughter continued to exert her cult-based influence over Park.

“Choi Soon-sil reportedly said North Korea will collapse within two years,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party, said Thursday. “She appeared to be a shamanist prophet. If Park was captivated by her prophecy and implemented her foreign and North Korea policies, this is a serious problem.”

Rumors spread further as it was pointed out that Park often used unusual expressions in her speeches, possibly influenced by Choi.

“If you do not learn history properly, your soul will become abnormal,” Park said on Nov. 10, 2015. “If you wish earnestly, the entire universe will help you,” Park said in her Children’s Day speech in 2015.

Rumors also spread that Choi had established a secret inner circle, named the “Eight Fairies,” to control state affairs. The National Intelligence Service’s logo was abruptly changed earlier this year to depict a dragon, and speculation has spread that it symbolizes the Mi-R Foundation. Mireu is an ancient Korean word for “dragon,” and Choi was accused of using the foundation to strong-arm conglomerates to make massive donations and then embezzling the money.

Moreover, during Park’s inaugural ceremony, a tree was erected at Gwanghwamun Square with small silk purses hung from it in order to conjure good fortune.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]