Is South Korea’s President Park a cultist?
The late religious leader Choi Tae-min befriended a traumatised Park Geun-hye after the 1974 assassination of her mother - whom he said had appeared to him in a dream. Park treated him as a mentor.
Is South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye a follower of a religious cult called Yongsaenggyo, or the Church of Eternal Life?
The question has been plaguing Koreans as evidence mounts concerning Park’s mysterious relationship with her longtime confidant Choi Soon-sil.
Choi, 60, a daughter of the late cult leader Choi Tae-min, is suspected of pulling strings in state affairs and illegally profiting since Park took office in February 2013.
Choi’s alleged exploitation of her relationship with the president is fueling speculation that Park, who is supposedly the country’s most powerful person, has been under the spell of her cultist confidant after becoming a follower of the religious cult.
Choi Tae-min, who died in 1994 at age 82, is believed to have founded Yongsaenggyo in the 1970s by combining differing beliefs in Buddhism, Christianity and the indigenous Korean religion Cheondoism that arose in the early 20th century.
He had previously been a Buddhist monk and also a Roman Catholic convert.
Calling himself the equivalent of a modern-day Buddha or Dangun, the legendary founder of the ancient Korean kingdom of Gojoseon, Choi Tae-min claimed that every man was God in the beginning and should strive to win salvation to become God again and live eternally.
The obscure cult leader initially met Park soon after her mother Yuk Young-soo was assassinated in 1974 and she assumed the duties of first lady at age 22 for her father, the then-military dictator Park Chung-hee, according to political sources.
It is rumoured that he approached Park by telling her that her mother appeared in his dreams and offered to help her.
Choi Tae-min, who befriended Park despite the 40-year-old age difference, served as Park’s mentor until his death.
He helped Park to organise a pro-government volunteer group called Movement for a New Mind, for which then-university student Choi Soon-sil served as youth leader.
Choi Tae-min, also a former police officer, was from a poor family. But he accumulated an enormous fortune serving as Park’s mentor and bequeathed his wealth to his children, according to sources.
They also said Choi Soon-sil, succeeded her father as cult leader.
Choi Tae-min who was married six times is rumoured to have had an improper relationship with Park.
Kim Jae-gyu, the then-Korean spy chief who assassinated Park Chung-hee in 1979, cited the senior Park’s “failure to prevent Choi Tae-min’s corrupt activities and keep him away from his daughter,” as a reason for assassinating his boss.
In 1990, Park’s younger sister Geun-ryong and brother Ji-man filed a petition to then-President Roh Tae-woo concerning a dispute with Choi Tae-min over a non-profit foundation that was set up to commemorate their late parents.
Geun-ryong and Ji-man claimed that the pastor had been manipulating their eldest sister, exploiting the foundation for illicit gains and trying to alienate them.
President Park is widely known for keeping her distance from her siblings for years.
Released by WikiLeaks, the US Embassy in Korea reported to its government in 2007 that “Rumours are rife that the late pastor had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years.” It also called Choi Tae-min a “Korean Rasputin”.
A new rumour recently erupted that Park’s possible relation to Yongsaenggyo was behind the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2014. The country’s worst maritime disaster left over 300 passengers, mostly middle school students, dead or missing. The Park government was criticised for its bungled efforts to save the passengers.