This segment originally aired Nov. 14, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Responding to public outcry, South Korean prosecutors will question President Park Geun-hye this week about alleged political corruption. The move comes after hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Seoul for a third weekend in a row.
The protesters are calling for Park’s resignation after it was revealed that she shared secret documents with her longtime advisor Choi Soon-sil, even though the religious leader didn’t hold an official position in the government. Choi, who has denied South Korean prosecutors’ charges of abuse of power and fraud, is also accused of using her influence to direct millions of dollars in donations to her own foundations.
Following Saturday’s protests, a spokesman for President Park said Sunday that she had “heard the voices of the people yesterday with gravity and deeply realizes the seriousness of the current situation.”
Park, who became the country’s first woman president when she began her five-year term in February 2013, has admitted sharing some documents with Choi and has now publicly apologized twice. Yet with her approval rating plummeting to 5 percent, it’s clear that the people of South Korea want her to step down.
“I think people must feel baffled and angry, because our democracy and our power has gone,” protestor Junhee Lee told NPR.
Choi is the leader of a religious movement called the Eternal Life Church, which was founded by her father and mixes strands of Christianity, Buddhism, and shamanism. According to Korean media, she claims to be able to converse with the dead and produce objects offering magical protection. Her father became a close confidant of Park’s father, former president Park Chung-hee, after his wife was killed by a North Korean assassin in 1974.
“It’s much more than simply, ‘Oh, she knows this person’; it’s deeply intertwined, almost like they’re Rasputin and Park Geun-hye is just a puppet,” David Kang, a Korea expert at the University of Southern California, told CNN.
North Korea has taken a keen interest in the corruption scandal that has engulfed its neighbor country’s president. Last week, Pyongyang’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a five-page feature on South Korea’s corruption scandal, along with pictures of the protests held in Seoul and other major cities.