January 19, 2017 / 9:44 AM / 7 months ago

The world according to Park: a blacklist and placenta shots in South Korea

6 Min Read

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with reporters at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Presidential Blue House and released by Yonhap on January 1, 2017. Blue House/Yonhap via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - In a tumultuous four years in power, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been criticized for her handling of a ferry disaster and the running of the economy, and also for bizarre episodes involving beauty treatments and bulk buying of Viagra.

And, according the special prosecutor investigating a corruption scandal that led to her impeachment last month, someone has drawn up a blacklist of actors, writers and others who Park thinks have gone too far.

Park has been accused by legal authorities and lawmakers of putting pressure on the entertainment industry in retaliation against satirical and other attacks, echoing back to the dark days of oppression under her father, dictator Park Chung-hee.

The presidential Blue House denies that such a blacklist exists. Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun has said many times that she has heard reports of such a list but that she had nothing to do with it.

"Park is doing exactly what her father did," Ha Jae-keun, a culture critic who called the list undignified and barbarous, told Reuters. "This is a repeat of what happened decades ago."

Park Chung-hee took over the country in a 1961 coup and ruled until he was shot and killed by his spy chief in 1979.

The blacklist, part of which was seen by Reuters, contains the names of thousands of actors, writers, film directors and others.

It includes acclaimed film directors like Cannes award winner Park Chan-wook, Venice Film Festival top prize winner Kim Ki-duk and actors Moon So-ri and Song Gang-ho. None was immediately available for comment.

Park Chung-hee was widely criticized for her seven hours of public silence after the Sewol ferry sank in 2014, killing more than 300 people, many of them children from the same school.

She has been lampooned for her handling of the economy and, on a less serious note, she came in for ridicule after a TV channel said she once used a starlet's name as a pseudonym at a beauty and detox clinic.

Park's medical and cosmetic treatments, including shots derived from human placenta, were also revealed in detail in a parliamentary hearing into the corruption scandal that could cost her the presidency. The impeachment is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court and, if upheld, she will have to quit.

Park's office also raised eyebrows last year when it said it had bought dozens of Viagra pills while preparing for her trip to Africa last year - not for anyone's erectile dysfunction, but to treat possible altitude sickness.

Viagra became the most searched keyword on the country's main online news portals following the revelation, which was initially reported by an opposition Democratic Party member of parliament in November.

The government and state entities used the blacklist as "guidelines" to penalize artists and censor content, the special prosecutor's office told reporters.

Last week, the office said it had obtained testimony from government officials that Park had rejected a request from the Culture Ministry to send Korean novelist Han Kang a congratulatory letter for winning the Man Booker International Prize last year for her novel "The Vegetarian" - a first for a South Korean.

Han, too, is on the blacklist.

"Don't Go - Not Even for Lunch"

Han's father, Han Seung-won, said in a radio interview that his daughter was aware of her name being on the blacklist for another novel called "Human Acts", about a Korean democracy movement brutally crushed in 1980.

"When I heard about the congratulatory letter, I told my daughter not to go to the Blue House if they invite her, not even for lunch," he said.

Former Blue House chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, who also served under the elder Park, and Culture Minister Cho left the special prosecutor's office on Wednesday after being questioned for more than 15 hours, each for their alleged involvement in creating the list and for excluding those on it from government projects or subsidies, the office said.

They insisted on their innocence and prosecutors have since requested arrest warrants for both of them.

Neither was available for comment.

Park was impeached after accusations that she colluded with long-time friend Choi Soon-sil to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back the president's policy initiatives.

Park is also accused of allowing Choi to exert inappropriate influence over state affairs.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

In addition to the blacklist, Sohn Kyung-shik, the chairman of food to entertainment conglomerate CJ Group, said Park had asked him in 2013 to demote Lee Mie-kyung, a vice chairwoman at the company. Sohn was giving evidence at the parliamentary hearing on the corruption scandal in December.

The reason for Park's request was not officially disclosed, but media have said it was in retaliation against a CJ-run cable channel broadcasting satirical skits about the president on the Korean version of Saturday Night Live.

Lee resigned in 2014 and has been living in the United States since. She was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie

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