SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Park Geun-hye is facing a political crisis over allegations that a former chief adviser pulled strings behind the scenes on key state affairs and feuded with Park's younger brother for power.
The scandal poses a setback for Park, who already is dealing with criticism that her leadership is similar to the heavy-handed style of her late dictator father, former President Park Chung-hee. Critics say the current president's poor communication with the public and lack of transparency on the personnel decisions she makes are to blame for the scandal.
The scandal centers on former aide Chung Yoon Hoe, who, according to local media reports, allegedly met regularly with 10 of Park's associates at a Seoul restaurant to try to exert influence on her personnel management. Chung was Park's chief adviser when she was in the legislature, but has never worked at the presidential Blue House.
The reports are based on leaked documents from an office headed by a presidential aide, Cho Eung-cheon, who's reportedly close to Park's younger brother, Park Ji-man. The Blue House says the documents contain groundless rumors.
On Monday, prosecutors brought in Park Ji-man for questioning, the latest in a slew of high-profile figures who have been summoned since a local newspaper first reported the allegations late last month. Surrounded by a throng of journalists ahead of questioning at a Seoul prosecutors' office, Park, who is the head of an oxidized steel-making company, said he would tell investigators what he knows, but gave no further comments.
His summoning came two days after one of three police officers being investigated over their roles in the document leaks was found dead in an apparent suicide. A suicide note suggests that another police officer under investigation was contacted by Blue House officials who were trying to convince him to admit to charges that he helped leak the documents. The presidential office has denied the speculation.
The story is big news here, and local media have dubbed the 10 aides who allegedly met Chung the "10 eunuchs," in reference to a group of 10 ancient, corrupt Chinese eunuch officials who exerted massive behind-the-scenes power during the final years of the Han Dynasty.
Chung was in the news in October when South Korean prosecutors indicted a Japanese journalist on charges of defaming President Park by reporting rumors and local media reports that she was absent for seven hours on the day of a ferry disaster in April that killed more than 300 people off South Korea's southwestern coast because she was with a man — Chung.
Last week, President Park said it would be "shameful" for a country to be rocked by unconfirmed rumors. The current scandal appears to be a big headache for her as she grapples with the aftermath of the ferry disaster and ongoing tensions with rival North Korea.
A public survey released Monday shows Park's approval ratings have dropped below 40 percent for the first time since she took office in February 2013 for a single five-year term.
Supporters lionize Park's father, Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea for 18 years before his assassination in 1979, for guiding the country from poverty and war to an economic powerhouse. Critics say he tortured and harassed opposition figures and rigged votes.