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South Korean President Embroiled in Scandal

South Korean President Park Geun-hye answers to a reporter's question during her news conference in Seoul in January.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye answers to a reporter's question during her news conference in Seoul in January.

South Korea's president is embroiled in a scandal over allegations she has allowed a friend to have access and input into important state affairs.

Park Geun-hye's approval ratings have plummeted amid calls for her resignation since revealing she gave drafts of her speeches for editing to Choi Soon-sil, who holds no government security clearance or post. Records indicate Choi also received confidential documents, including files on Japan and North Korea.

Park, who has a little more than a year left in office, has apologized and has vowed to stay in office.

Media reports have speculated Choi used her influence with the president to persuade companies to donate money to her own two charities, and used those charities for her own benefit.

Also of concern, Choi's father presided over a religious cult. Lawmakers say they are concerned Choi has draped herself in her father's religious mantle. The head of the main opposition party said Choi's influence with the president is like discovering you are being ruled by a "terrifying theocracy."

Choi has been living in Germany since September when reports of her possible influence on the president first became public. Her lawyer says she is willing to return to South Korea for questioning.

President Park was befriended by Choi's late father in the 1970s when Park's father, Park Chung-hee, was South Korea's military leader.

Choi Tae-min was a shadowy religious figure. The young Park and the older Choi grew even closer after the death of Park's mother in 1974, accidentally killed by the country's intelligence chief who was actually aiming at the military leader. The current president became the acting first lady after her mother's death.

Would-be assassin Kim Jae-gyu, who was eventually executed, said in court proceedings one of his motives for the shooting was to keep the elder Choi away from Park's daughter, Geun-hye.

Park Chung-hee himself was assassinated by his own spy chief in 1979, 18 years after coming to power in a coup.

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