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South Korean president issues second apology, denies cult rumors

By
Elizabeth Shim
South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized for her involvement with longtime acquaintance Choi Soon-sil on Friday. File Pool Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool
South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized for her involvement with longtime acquaintance Choi Soon-sil on Friday. File Pool Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool | License Photo

SEOUL, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- An emotional President Park Geun-hye issued her second apology on Friday for her complicity in a political scandal involving a longtime acquaintance who interfered in government affairs.

Park, 64, said she would be willing to undergo investigation at the request of prosecutors who are questioning Choi Soon-sil, the woman acused of amassing $70 million in illicit donations using her connections, The Guardian reported.

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Park described the scandal as "heartbreaking" and said the "latest developments are all my fault and were caused by my carelessness."

"It is hard to forgive myself and sleep at night because of the feelings of sorrow," the South Korean president said.

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Park, however, stopped short of confirming reports she had performed cult-like religious practices on the premises of the presidential Blue House.

"I would like to clarify that those [claims] are absolutely not true," Park said.

Choi's father, the late Choi Tae-min, is believed to have been the leader of a pseudo-Christian cult that included Park, according to South Korean press reports.

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Local media has also suggested Choi's father then his daughter duped Park into believing they were channeling messages from Park's late mother, who was killed by an assassin's stray bullet in 1974.

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On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the issue is a "domestic political situation" that is for the "South Korean people to discuss and debate," while stressing the importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

"[Our] alliance remains strong, and our commitment to that alliance remains strong," Earnest said.

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Some analysts, however, are concerned about the impact the scandal could have on regional security.

Park supports the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system THAAD, but according to Scott Seaman, senior Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group, her lack of authority would mean she has less sway over foreign policy and security issues.

"Park will finish out her single, five-year term ending in February 2018, but she will likely renounce her membership in her party and be forced to turn over much of her authority to a new prime minister," Seaman said, according to CNBC.

Members of Park's Cabinet have been asked to resign, and the president's private secretary Jeong Ho-seung is suspected of sending hundreds of classified documents, including presidential speeches and state documents to Choi.

Jeong, 47, was arrested Friday, and may have played a key role in enabling Choi along with two other aides, according to local newspaper Hankyoreh.

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