Asan Korea Perspective

The Choi Soon-sil Scandal

President Park’s Impeachment

On Dec 9, the National Assembly voted in favor of President Park’s impeachment (Yay:234; Nay:56; Abs:2; Inv:7).1 President Park apologized on national television for causing “chaos” and agreed to “solemnly accept the voices of the National Assembly and the people.” Finally, she committed to “deal with the Constitutional Court’s decision on impeachment and the special investigation of Choi Soon-sil according to the country’s constitution and laws.”2

President Park’s authority as president was suspended as of the National Assembly vote and the executive authority was transferred to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn until the Constitutional Court can issue a ruling on the impeachment vote. The Court is permitted to take at maximum 180 days from the impeachment vote to issue a ruling. If the Court decides to uphold the impeachment vote, PM Hwang will serve as the acting president until a new president is elected, which should not be longer than 60 days from the Court’s ruling. If, however, the Court decides to overrule the impeachment vote, President Park will regain her power.

Approximately a million South Koreans took to the streets in celebration of President Park’s removal from power the day after the impeachment vote. Unlike the previous six protests, the mood was festive and celebratory. Many still demanded President Park’s immediate resignation and arrest, and promised to continue the vigils until she is removed from office.3

Special Investigation on Choi Soon-sil

On Dec 5, Park Choong-kun, Lee Yong-bok, Yang Jae-sik, and Lee Kyu-chul were appointed as assistants to special prosecutor (SP) Park Young-soo.4 20 ‘dispatch’ prosecutors were also assigned to assist SP Park. The investigators will look into four major allegations: 1) solicitation of payments from Korean conglomerates (by President Park); 2) Woo Byung-woo, the former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, failed in his duty and was involved in the corruption; 3) personal relationship between Choi Soon-sil and Kim Ki-choon, the former presidential chief of staff; and 4) Chung Yoo-ra’s preferential treatment in the Ewha Womans University’s admission process5.

As of Dec 6, all records and documents regarding this case was transferred to the special prosecutor. The official investigation will begin this week.6 The team will have at maximum 100 days to conclude the investigation but SP Park has announced that the team will do its best to complete the investigation by Feb 28.7 With the Constitutional Court expected to issue a ruling in March, the results of the special investigation may impact the Court’s decision.

President Park may be interrogated by the special investigation unit on more than one occasion although SP Park has stated that he will try his best to minimize that number.8 There is also the possibility that the SP will search the Blue House. Finally, PM Hwang may also be investigated for his role in the investigation of the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014.10

Ministry of Defense Hacked

The Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced on Dec 5 that its intranet was compromised and 3,200 computers had been infected by 39 malicious codes. 700 computers were using the MOD intranet while 2,500 computers were using regular Internet servers. Investigators have identified North Korea as the likely culprit given that 20 of 39 codes had been used by North Korea in the past11. Defense Minister Han Min-goo’s computer was also infected although it remains unclear what military intelligence were leaked as a result12.

National Assembly Inquiry

The National Assembly Inquiry Committee is holding its last hearing on Dec 22. The proceeding has been widely criticized for lack of substance and absence of key witnesses, such as Woo Byungwoo.13 Mr. Woo was summoned for the second hearing on Dec 6 but he was not in attendance.14 Several politicians and individuals donated KRW 18 million (app. USD 15,000) to set a bounty on Mr. Woo and have him summoned to the National Assembly. Since then, a nation-wide manhunt for Mr. Woo have led to a series of information related to his whereabouts. Mr. Woo has expressed his willingness to attend the 5th hearing but the committee has said that there is no official confirmation from Mr. Woo yet.15

Fate of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI)

With many South Korean businesses alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal involving Ms. Choi Soon-sil, the fate of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) is in jeopardy. The FKI is seen as the principal intermediary between the government and business.16

During the second hearing involving business leaders and economic officials, Vice Chairman of the Samsung Electronics, Lee Jae-yong, stated that Samsung would cease being a member of the FKI.17 Leaders of Hyundai Motors, LG, and SK also announced similar plans.18 Several state-owned entrepreneurs, banks and funds have followed and commercial banks are also reviewing this possibility. Given that four of top five companies contribute more than half of the FKI’s total membership revenue,20 their withdrawal is likely to be a de facto dissolution.

Even those companies opposing the dissolution, including Lotte, Hanhwa and Hanjin, acknowledge the need for some type of reform.21 There is even a thought of turning the organization into a think-tank.22

Party Approval Ratings23, 24


Presidential Candidate Approval Ratings25


Contributing Staff(in alphabetical order): Han Minjeong, John J. Lee
Editor:J. James Kim

  • 1.

    “국회, 朴대통령 ‘탄핵안’ 가결…찬성 234·반대 56·무효 7표,” 동아일보, 2016년 12월 9일.

  • 2.

    “박근혜 대통령 ‘탄핵 심판과 특검 수사에 담담하게 대응할 것’,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 9일.

  • 3.

    “전국 곳곳서 ‘즉각 퇴진’…광화문광장 80만, 전국 100만,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 10일.

  • 4.

    “특검보 4명 등 ‘특검 선발대’ 확정,” 조선일보, 2016년 12월 6일.

  • 5.

    “특검, 2월말까지 수사 완료 목표…뇌물죄 적용땐 헌재 결정에 영향,” 동아일보, 2016년 12월 13일.

  • 6.

    “박영수 특검 ‘朴대통령 대면조사 한번에 끝낼 것’,” 동아일보, 2016년 12월 16일.

  • 7.

    “특검수사 내년 2월말까지 마친다…청와대 삼성 ‘주 타깃’,” 한겨레, 2016년 12월 13일.

  • 8.

    “박영수 특검 ‘박 대통령 조사, 한 번에 끝내는 것이 좋다’,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 16일.

  • 9.

    “‘최순실 게이트’ 박영수 특검팀 ‘20일쯤 수사 개시 고려 중…필요하면 청와대도 압수수색’,” 조선일보, 2016년 12월 15일.

  • 10.

    “세월호 수사 방해한 황교안 대행, 특검 수사 대상,” 한겨레, 2016년 12월 16일.

  • 11.

    “국방부 ‘국방망 해킹, 악성코드 39개중 20개가 북한이 쓰던 코드’,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 7일.

  • 12.

    “국방부 인트라넷 해킹… ‘韓장관 PC도 뚫려’,” 조선일보, 2016년 12월 6일.

  • 13.

    “알맹이 없는 청문회, 제도 손질 필요,” 이데일리, 2016년 12월 15일; “’한국식 청문회’ 이대로 괜찮은가…의원들은 마음에 안들면 ‘호통’, 증인들은 수사받는 ‘죄인’처럼,” 한국일보, 2016년 12월 15일.

  • 14.

    “‘국민 수배령’ 우병우 22일 청문회 나온다.” 한겨레, 2016년 12월 13일; “현상금에 부담 느꼈나…우병우 ‘청문회 나갈 것’,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 14일.

  • 15.

    “우병우 ‘청문회 나가겠다’…22일 연기 `5차 청문회` 출석,” 매일경제, 2016년 12월 13일; “현상금에 부담 느꼈나…우병우 ‘청문회 나갈 것’,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 14일.

  • 16.

    “[김기천 칼럼] 전경련 해체와 미래전략실 폐지,” 조선비즈, 2016년 12월 13일.

  • 17.

    “[박종면칼럼]’이재용 청문회’ 뒤의 안도감,” 머니투데이, 2016년 12월 12일

  • 18.

    “삼성·SK·LG ‘탈퇴’…전경련 해체 위기,” KBS News, 2016년 12월 6일; “삼성·현대차·SK·LG까지 ‘4대그룹’ 전경련 탈퇴… 해체 수순 가나,” 아시아투데이, 2016년 12월 6일

  • 19.

    “금융공기업 줄줄이 전경련 탈퇴 나서…사실상 해체 수순,” 세계일보, 2016년 12월 8일.

  • 20.

    “전경련 해체, 쇠뿔도 단김에 빼라,” 한겨레, 2016년 12월 7일.

  • 21.

    “롯데·한화·한진, 전경련 해체 ‘반대’ 언제까지 고수할까,” 뉴데일리, 2016년 12월 9일.

  • 22.

    “전경련 해체 뒤 싱크탱크 전화될 듯,” 중앙일보, 2016년 12월 7일.

  • 23.

    Gallup Korea, date: Dec. 6-8; sample size: 1,012; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 24.

    Gallup Korea, date: Dec. 13-15; sample size: 1,004; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 25.

    Gallup Korea, date: Dec. 6-8; sample size: 1,012; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.