South Korea is embroiled in a complex political scandal that threatens to bring down President Park Geun-hye. Park has been caught seeking input on key speeches from Soon-sil, a personal friend with no official government position. Quartz describes Soon-sil as a cult-like figure, a "Rasputin-like mystery woman" who exerts a powerful spiritual influence over Park. While Park has admitted to and apologized for seeking Soon-sil's opinion on her speeches, the Wall Street Journal reports that the scandal goes beyond that. Allegations are flying that Soon-sil had access to official government documents and exerted an unusual level of control over Park, down to telling the leader what colors she was allowed to wear.
The story goes back almost 40 years, to Soon-sil's father, Choi Tae-min. Choi founded a cult-like sect in Korea called the Church of Eternal Life and had close ties to Park's father, former President Park Chun-hee. He has long been accused of meddling in politics and wielding a spiritual, almost unworldly influence over Park's family. The New York Times quotes a 2007 leaked diplomatic cable that described a rumor that Choi "had complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years and that his children [including Soon-sil] accumulated enormous wealth as a result." Now, critics and opponents of the current government say Soon-sil is assuming the same behind-the-scenes role her father occupied. Thousands gathered in Seoul on Saturday to call for Park's resignation over the scandal. So far, five senior aides have resigned. (Read more South Korea stories.)