Park apologises over leak of speech drafts
South Korean president admits to seeking advice from confidant Choi Soon-sil, who also edited her speeches
By Kang Seung-woo
President Park Geun-hye admitted Tuesday that her long-time confidant Choi Soon-sil had edited her speeches in the early years of her presidency, apologising for public concern raised by the controversy surrounding Choi.
Her acknowledgement came one day after media reports revealed that Choi had prior access to presidential speeches and edited them, intensifying allegations that she exerted influence on state affairs.
Following the reports by JTBC, a local cable channel, the opposition parties urged Park to speak out and apologise for the case, denouncing it as an affront to democracy. They even mentioned a possible investigation into the President.
“Choi advised me on expressions in my speeches and public relations during the last presidential campaign, and she continued to help me for a certain period of time after I took office,” Park said in a surprise statement at Cheong Wa Dae.
“However, it stopped after the presidential office completed relevant systems,” she added without specifying when it came to an end.
However, Park defended her acts as purely to perfect her speeches.
“Regardless of what the reason may be, I am sorry that the scandal has caused national concern and I humbly apologise to the people,” she said.
Her remarks are a reversal of Cheong Wa Dae’s previous stance on the issue. Last week, presidential chief of staff Lee Won-jong rejected a similar report at the National Assembly, saying that such a thing could not even happen in a feudalistic society.
Choi, the daughter of President Park’s late mentor, is regarded as a secretive heavyweight who holds great influence over Park as well as her administration. She has been caught up in allegations that she was behind suspicious fundraising activities involving the K-Sports and Mir foundations.
According to JTBC, Monday, it obtained Choi’s personal computer from her office in Seoul and found 200 files, 44 of which were transcripts of President Park’s speeches.
“All 44 transcripts had been saved to the computer before they were delivered by the President,” it said, confirming a previous news report that Choi had been involved in the final wording of presidential speeches.
Among the transcripts was the 2014 Dresden Speech — Park’s signature North Korea initiative.
JTBC reported that Choi received the text one day ahead of the actual delivery and there were 20 differences between the saved version and the final words that Park actually used, raising suspicions that she may have edited it.
The files also included copies of Park’s 2013 New Year message as well as her remarks at Cabinet meetings, and even her reshuffling list for that year when she replaced her chief of staff and other senior secretaries. Choi also had access to Park’s victory speech in December 2012 less than three hours before the President read the same transcript saved to the computer.
Despite Park’s apology, the opposition parties raised a political offensive, claiming Park and Choi should be punished in accordance with the related laws.
“It appears that Park still does not understand the gravity of the situation,” said main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae.
“It is not her personal feelings that we want to hear from her. What we want to hear is how to run the country and establish the constitutional order again.”
Rep. Youn Kwan-suk, a DPK spokesman, also said, “Classified presidential documents were leaked to a civilian. Those who failed to prevent such a thing, including Park, Choi and the presidential chief of staff should be punished in accordance with laws.”
Son Kum-ju, a People’s Party spokesman, said, “The President’s explanation did not clear allegations regarding Choi at all. It was not enough to ease the public furor.”
He added: “Given that President Park consulted with Choi over her speeches after her inauguration, she publicly confirmed that Choi is a secret heavyweight in her administration.”
Presidential hopefuls also attacked the President, calling for a special prosecutor’s investigation.
“The President should not hide herself behind Choi, and must reveal the truth,” said former DPK Chairman Moon Jae-in in a special statement, posted on his social network service account, Tuesday.
“She must bring Choi back to Korea and have her face an investigation, while replacing her staff responsible for the scandal.” Choi, along with her daughter, are believed to be in hiding in Germany.
Ahn Cheol-soo, a former People’s Party co-chairman, also slammed Park, claiming that the President should be held responsible for the controversy.
“It is an absolutely impossible situation,” he said, adding that the allegations surrounding Choi must be cleared up through a full-scale investigation, including the use of a special prosecutor.
The prosecution, which is currently investigating the scandal, is analysing the content of the computer files it received from JTBC.
Meanwhile, Choi In-geun, Park’s former senior secretary for speeches and records who now serves as an auditor for the Korea Securities Finance Corp., failed to go to work for the second straight day.
Choi had worked as Park’s speech writer since 2004, but he suddenly resigned in July this year.
Currently, he cannot be reached for comment.