From the New York Times, a South Korean story reminiscent of Imam Gulen and other curious tales of high office:
A Presidential Friendship Has Many South Koreans Crying Foul
By CHOE SANG-HUN OCT. 27, 2016
SEOUL, South Korea — South Koreans have been riveted for weeks by a scandal involving the president and a shadowy adviser accused of being a “shaman fortuneteller” by opposition politicians.
The elusive figure, Choi Soon-sil, is a private citizen with no security clearance, yet she had remarkable influence over President Park Geun-hye: She was allowed to edit some of Ms. Park’s most important speeches. …
She even had power over the president’s wardrobe, overseeing the design of her dresses and telling her what colors to wear on certain days. …
But for most South Koreans, the real drama is that Ms. Choi is the daughter of a religious figure whose relationship with Ms. Park had long been the subject of lurid rumors. The figure, Choi Tae-min, was often compared to Rasputin here, and now critics say his daughter is playing the same role.
Mr. Choi was the founder of an obscure sect called the Church of Eternal Life. He befriended Ms. Park, 40 years his junior, soon after her mother was assassinated in 1974. According to a report by the Korean intelligence agency from the 1970s that was published by a South Korean newsmagazine in 2007, Mr. Choi initially approached Ms. Park by telling her that her mother had appeared in his dreams, asking him to help her.
Mr. Choi was a former police officer who had also been a Buddhist monk and a convert to Roman Catholicism. (He also used seven different names and was married six times by the time he died in 1994 at the age of 82.) He became a mentor to Ms. Park, helping her run a pro-government volunteer group called Movement for a New Mind. Ms. Choi became a youth leader in that group.
According to the report by the KCIA, as the country’s intelligence agency was then called, Mr. Choi was a “pseudo pastor” who had used his connection to Ms. Park to secure bribes.
Ms. Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, the former military dictator, was assassinated in 1979 by Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the KCIA.
In South Korea, life at the top is full of interest.
Mr. Kim told a court that one of the reasons he killed Mr. Park was what he called the president’s failure to stop Mr. Choi’s corrupt activities and keep him away from his daughter.
… In a 2007 diplomatic cable made public through WikiLeaks, the American Embassy in Seoul reported rumors that Mr. Choi “had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children accumulated enormous wealth as a result.” One such tale held that Ms. Park, who has never married, had his child. (She has denied that.)
In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Ms. Park acknowledged that she had let Ms. Choi edit some of her most important speeches.
“I deeply apologize to the people,” Ms. Park said. She described Ms. Choi as an old friend who had stood by her through painful times, like the years after the killings of her mother and father.
On Wednesday, prosecutors raided homes belonging to Ms. Choi and some of her associates, as well as the offices of two foundations she controls, in connection with allegations that she had used her ties with Ms. Park to pressure businesses into donating $69 million to the foundations.
Ms. Choi, who has not been charged with a crime, had traveled to Germany, where she told a journalist that she was innocent but that she would not come home to face investigators. …
When local news media first reported allegations that Ms. Choi had edited the president’s speeches, Ms. Park’s office dismissed them as “nonsense.” But those denials crumbled this week, after the cable channel JTBC reported that it had obtained a discarded tablet computer once owned by Ms. Choi.
Files discovered there included drafts of 44 speeches and other statements that Ms. Park had given from 2012 to 2014, as a presidential candidate and later as president. The computer’s log showed that Ms. Choi had received them hours or days before Ms. Park delivered the speeches. Many passages were marked in red. …
Ms. Choi’s close relationship with the president has long been suspected, as people close to her have worked in Ms. Park’s administration.
She and her ex-husband, who was Ms. Park’s chief of staff when she was a lawmaker, have been accused in the past of improperly profiting from their influence, allegations that Ms. Park dismissed as “slander” and attempts to “disrupt the national order.” Officials who investigated the allegations were fired.
… Last week, the president of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, a leading university in the nation, resigned amid accusations that the school had given Ms. Choi’s daughter, a student there, favorable treatment.
Apparently, that’s a very big deal in college admissions-obsessed South Korea. You are supposed to cheat your way into fancy colleges in the time-honored ways, not just rely on pull. What’s the younger generation coming to?
“Ms. Choi effectively told the president to do this and do that,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Lee as saying. “There was nothing the president could decide alone.” Ms. Park’s office did not comment on the report.
Here’s a fuller account from Ask a Korean!
This is also reminiscent of how following President Reagan’s near-assassination in 1981, Nancy Reagan put TV astrologer J0an Quigley on retainer. Oddly, this bit of 1980s history was anticipated quite closely in a sublplot of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, in which the heroes, needing to influence the President of the World (or whatever) to do something, start with the First Lady’s astrologer.
In Heinlein’s telling, the upshot is usually that the President of the World just does whatever he was probably going to do anyway, but with more confidence.
But I should also point out that death and fear of death play strong role in the Rasputin, Park, and Reagan cases.
Death is a big deal.