[Interview] Park Geun-hye believed in Choi Tae-min after he predicted her father’s death

Posted on : 2016-11-06 07:19 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Minister who was close to Pres. Park’s spiritual mentor explains the origins of her relationship with Choi Sun-sil’s father
 and Choi Tae-min (left) participate in a ceremony at Baejae High School for the National Salvation Army of the Cross
and Choi Tae-min (left) participate in a ceremony at Baejae High School for the National Salvation Army of the Cross
“On the day of [former President] Park Chung-hee’s death [on Oct. 26, 1979], Choi Tae-min wrote to Miss Park Geun-hye that she should ‘make a lunch appointment with the president today and send off all the people around him.’ At around 12:50 pm that day, Miss Park Geun-hye apparently called Choi Tae-min and said, ‘I asked my father, and he said he can’t do it today, but in three days he’ll send everyone off.’ Choi Tae-min had predicted Park Chung-hee’s death. That’s why Miss Park Geun-hye came to believe in him. All of this was told to me by Choi Tae-min.”
Minister Jeon Ki-young, known as a close associate of Choi Tae-min, shared this recollection with a Hankyoreh reporter on Nov. 4 at Fidelity Church in the Ohak village of Seosan’s Haemi township in South Chungcheong Province. Choi was the father of Choi Sun-sil, the central figure in the current government interference scandal swirling around the Blue House. Jeon, 79, serves as head of the general assembly for the Presbyterian Church of Korea, which in the 1970s conferred the title of “minister” on Choi Tae-min.
 who was First Lady at the time
who was First Lady at the time
On Nov. 4, Jeon shared with the Hankyoreh remarks that Choi Tae-min had made about his relationship with Park Geun-hye. “Don’t talk about physical matters. We’re a spiritual family; we’re like a married couple,” Jeon quoted Choi as saying. “My god told me to help this woman, and the spirit of Yuk Young-soo [Park’s mother] told me to help her. That’s why I’m helping her, and we don’t have some kind of depraved physical relationship.”
After watching Park’s second public apology on the morning of Nov. 4, Jeon suggested that instead of calling for Park to step down or be impeached, people should try to help Park with the harm caused by the spells cast on her so that she can protect the nation’s security.
What follows is a transcript of our interview with Jeon. To aid readers’ understanding, Jeon’s words are presented almost entirely as he said them.

Hankyoreh (Hani): What kind of person was Choi Tae-min?

Jeon Ki-young (Jeon): Choi was a spiritualist, a sorcerer. He was the child of independence fighters. To acquire information about the Japanese police’s attempts to suppress the independence movement, Choi got a job as an errand boy at the police station in Anak County, Hwanghae Province. Choi was a talented writer and was very knowledgeable. When he wrote a letter to the chief prosecutor, the prosecutor was impressed with Choi’s writing ability and his knowledge. Cho Hyeon-jong graduated from a law school in Japan and was appointed to a senior position at the police station. The chief prosecutor asked Cho to treat Choi, the errand boy, as a brother. That was when Choi apparently was given a special opportunity to join the police force.

According to the July and Aug. 1984 issues of “Dark Green Pastoral Work”, Rev. Cho Hyeon-jong, an aide of Choi Tae-min, graduated from Pierson Bible School and the religious department of a Japanese law school in 1938. After Korea was liberated from Japanese rule, Cho returned to the peninsula and served as a senior official in the police before being transferred to the military police with the rank of major, the journal said. In 1969, Cho was ordained as a minister with the Seoul Presbytery of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea (GAPCK), and he was selected to be the organization’s second secretary-general in 1970.

Hani: How did Choi Tae-min say he got to know Park Geun-hye?

Jeon: After liberation, Cho Hyeon-jong and Choi Tae-min moved to South Korea. Cho joined the military police in the South Korean army, but Choi had nothing to do. For this reason, he went into the mountains and undertook a program of spiritual training. One day while Choi was praying in a cave, a young man who had been bringing food for Choi [Choi apparently believed the man was a mountain spirit] came by one day and told Choi that the country was in mourning [Aug. 15, 1974] because of the assassination of Yuk Young-soo, wife of then president Park Chung-hee. The young man said, “Yuk is over there waiting to meet you,” and when Choi went outside, Yuk was sitting on a boulder with her skirt spread out as the morning sunlight streamed down. Choi said that Yuk looked extremely lifelike. Choi pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, and it hurt [implying that it wasn’t a dream].

Choi said that Yuk told him that her daughter Geun-hye had been in trouble since her death and that there was a secret that only she and her daughter knew. Yuk told Choi that if he sent Geun-hye a letter containing this secret, she would ask to meet him. Yuk asked Choi to help her daughter when he met her. Choi ended up writing the letter and mailed it at the post office in Gwanghwamun, Seoul. After that, Choi said he got a phone call from the Blue House in his house in the Yongsan [neighborhood of Seoul] asking him to come [to the Blue House] in a black car that would be sent to pick him up. When Choi met Park Geun-hye and told her the secret about her mother, Park fainted. This was what Christians call a trance, a state of mind that you can enter like a dream. In the trance, Park met her mother, who apparently told her she had sent Choi Tae-min to help her out. Since that time, Park completely trusted Choi.

Hani: Was Choi a real minister?

Jeon: After Cho left the military police, he served as the secretary-general of the GAPCK. Once Choi had gained more influence over Park, Cho told Choi about the section in the Book of Numbers in the Bible where King Balak uses Balaam the diviner. Cho told Choi to stop being a sorcerer and to start being a minister. Back then, there weren’t that many Christians, so people in the GAPCK would be chosen to become ministers even when they hadn’t studied theology. It was a time of confusion for the Korean church. That’s how Choi received the title of “minister.”

Hani: How did Choi create the National Salvation Army of the Cross?

Jeon: After President Park Chung-hee adopted the Yushin Constitution in Oct. 1972, the Christian church became an opposing force. Park told Choi that since he was a minister now he should create an organization that could obstruct the existing Christian groups. The group that was subsequently formed was the National Salvation Army of the Cross. After setting up that group, he established branches around the country, from Seoul to Jeju Island. On top of that, he chose Rev. Kang Shin-myeong to be the president of the group. The [other Christian] groups couldn’t stand up to even one of the leaders of the regional branches.

That was when Choi chose Park Geun-hye to be the honorary president of the National Salvation Army of the Cross. They bought the site of the Holiness Church in Seodaemun, Seoul, for 900 million won [US$787 million today] and spent 300 million won building the Free Hospital of Korean Medicine for the Elderly. [Doctors] from the Korean Medical Association were put on rotation to work at the hospital. Choi said that national health care originated at the Free Hospital of Korean Medicine for the Elderly. Cho urged Choi to serve as the secretary-general [of the GAPCK] because he had a lot of money. From that time, the National Salvation Army of the Cross was affiliated with the GAPCK. Cho became the president in charge of recruitment [for the National Salvation Army of the Cross]. There were three presidents: Cho Hyeon-jong, Choi Tae-min and Park Geun-hye.

Park Geun-hye
Park Geun-hye

Hani: What kind of relationship did Choi have with Park Geun-hye at the time?

Jeon: Rumor had it that Choi and Park would go into a room and stay there all day long. With all this salacious gossip going around, Kim Jae-gyu, director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), filed intelligence reports, and Park Chung-hee questioned the two of them himself. Park Geun-hye firmly defended Choi, while Choi said, “Don’t talk about physical matters. We’re a spiritual family; we’re like a married couple.” When Park Chung-hee heard this, he understood, and he told Kim Jae-gyu to get the facts straight before filing reports. Choi Tae-min treated Park Geun-hye like a goddess and respected her immensely. There wasn’t any funny business going on.

Hani: Do you remember anything happening between Park Geun-hye and Choi Tae-min?

Jeon: On the day that Park Chung-hee died [Oct. 26, 1979], Choi told Park Geun-hye to make a lunch appointment with her father and to send away everyone who was with him. At 12:50 pm on that day, I was told, Choi got a phone call from Park Geun-hye. Park told Choi that she had asked her father to send everyone away, but he told her he wouldn’t do so that day but three days later. Choi Tae-min had foreseen the death of Park Chung-hee. That made Park Geun-hye trust him even more. I was told all of this by Choi.

Hani: What was Choi Tae-min doing in the 1980s?

Jeon: After Park Chung-hee died, Choi disappeared for a couple of years. I met him for the first time after Park’s death, in the early 1980s. When he was secretary-general [of the GAPCK] in the 1980s, I served as deputy secretary-general. There was a research institute for Park Chung-hee in Gangnam, Seoul, that became the office of the GAPCK. We built the Church of Meeting on 660 square meters in Gangnam and ran a volunteer program and university classes for the elderly. We put up a sign for the Geunhwa Volunteer Group in Children’s Grand Park [in Seoul], and on the weekends we would hold meetings of the Geunhwa Church there.

Since I was so young when I became deputy secretary-general, there was a lot of envy and jealousy. Choi had a rough way of speaking. He would call the other pastors “a bunch of assholes.” “How can you assholes call yourself ministers when you don’t even have a shaman’s spirit? You’re just pathetic. I’m taking care of this guy because his spirit is more advanced than mine,” he said. Choi never used the low form of speech with me. He said he wanted to have a word with me and said, “I’ll be counting on you in the future.” Then he had a woman secretary bring over an envelope full of money and gave it to me. When I got home and looked inside, there was 6 million won there. At the time, 6 million won was enough to buy two apartments. Choi really liked spending time with me. He would tell me to come out if I didn’t show up, and he treated me with great kindness.

Hani: What happened to Choi Tae-min after that?

Jeon: I saw Choi in 1993 after he suggested we meet up. He was going around with six bodyguards -- big guys, which some people said looked like thugs. Choi told me that Park Geun-hye would become president and asked me to help with her campaign. He said that her election campaign should be staffed by the 700,000 members of the Geunhwa Volunteer Group around the country, and he wanted me to be in charge. He told me there was a balance of 1.3 billion won at the Anguk branch of Chohung Bank and that there was 90 million won left in interest.

Christians talk about having the “eyes of the spirit.” When I looked at Choi with the eyes of the spirit, I saw that his eyes were black and hollow, and he looked like he was possessed. Just then, I said to Choi, “Hey, you freak, what are you really? I’m a servant of the Lord!” Then his face twisted and contorted. His eyes went bloodshot, and his body trembled. I still remember vividly how he looked at that time. Choi looked like he was going to faint, so I got out of there. That was Oct. 1993.

Hani: Was there anything memorable about Choi?

Jeon: Choi did make a lot of accurate predictions about things to come, about the future. When I asked him how intimate his relationship with Park Geun-hye was, he became very serious and said, “My god told me to help this woman, and the spirit of Yuk Young-soo [Park’s mother] told me to help her. That’s why I’m helping her, and we don’t have some kind of depraved physical relationship.” When Choi spoke of Park, you could tell he regarded her as a holy being. Choi was not an eloquent speaker, and he mostly said stuff that sounded completely crazy, spiritual things. When I listen to what President Park says these days, I hear a lot of the spiritual stuff that Choi used to say.

In an interview with another newspaper, Jeon said that some of Park Geun-hye’s remarks (“If you don’t learn history properly, your spirit will become abnormal” and “If you want something fervently, the universe will come forward to help you”) had reminded him of Choi Tae-min.

Hani: Choi Tae-min’s family members, including Choi Sun-sil, have a considerable amount of wealth today.

Jeon: At first, Choi family wasn’t well off. Choi said that when he was doing his spiritual training, he didn’t have anything to eat, so he had to depend on handouts. But when he got close to the president, he was given all kinds of things. Companies would give him money, and people would pay him to appoint them as leaders in the National Salvation Army of the Cross. He said he got the 1.3 billion won from [redacted].

Hani: Park Geun-hye made another public apology.

Jeon: Park has finally come to her senses. If you tie her hands at this point, there won’t be anyone to control the South Korean military in the event of war. This isn’t the time to be calling for her impeachment. Christians are to blame for their failure to lift the spell from Park. Exorcism isn’t everything; if Park is hurt, we ought to take better care of her. The fact is that I cried while I was watching her apology today. What a frail woman, what a lonely woman she is! If she’s under a spell, human strength alone is not enough. Now that she’s free from that, the Christians who have caused her so much harm need to pray for Park to be given strength.

By Choi Ye-rin, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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