As the financial Times reported on Friday, President Park is facing the biggest challenge to her presidency. The allegations are that two of her closest advisers forced donations from two of the largest conglomerates into non-profit organisations.
Her approval ratings are now at 26%, the lowest since she became President in 2013. It’s claimed that Park’s long-time confidant Ms Choi masterminded the creation of the Mir and K-Sports foundations, they have collected about Won80bn ($72m) from 53 companies in just a few months. It took a single day to approve their creation — unusually fast for South Korea — and they have won bids for big public projects despite their lack of relevant experience.
It’s all part of the wider picture of crony capitalism, which sees family run businesses -known as chaebols – dominating the major industries. They are often run like feudal dynasties, with positions handed down from father to son, or to wife, daughter, common law partner. For example, the corporate giant Lotte has been run by the same family since its inception in 1953, and all the major positions are filled by relatives of founder Shin Kyuk-Ho. Two of his sons hold key roles in the South Korea’s fifth largest conglomerate.
Lawyers have charged the CEO of Lotte group and four of his family members with tax evasion, embezzlement and illegal business ideals worth hundred of millions of dollars.
If convicted, Mr Shin could face up to a year in prison but would probably be given a presidential pardon, which has freed many jailed executives in the past.
Lotte was founded in Tokyo in 1948 but has most of its operations are in South Korea. Most South Korean politicians are directly related to politicians who were members of the government which supported Japanese occupation. For example, President Park is the daughter of the dictator Chung Hee, who was assassinated in 1979. He was opposed to allowing democracy and frequently crushed student protests. His daughter has been criticised for mishandling the Sewol ferry disaster and for limiting freedom of speech, which means that access to the internet has been restricted and websites censored.
Whatever happens to the Lotte President, people in this wonderful country deserve much better from their government and the people who run major companies.