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Suspicions grow over ultraconservative rallies

Amid snowballing suspicions over the government’s alleged involvement in pro-government rallies by a right-wing organization, President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday loosely denied her office’s ties with the group.

“I was briefed that it was not true that (a Cheong Wa Dae official was behind the right-wing group’s rallies),” she said in a meeting with editors in chief held at the presidential office.

Questions have been thrown around in recent days upon news reports that Cheong Wa Dae and a business lobby group were allegedly behind the ultraconservative group the Korea Parent Federation, with progressive civic groups demanding prosecutors investigate the case.

Asked what she thought about the right-wing group’s pro-government activities, Park said that it was “inappropriate” for the president to publicly offer opinions on civic groups’ activities, as they all pursued their own values.

The Korea Parent Federation -- a nongovernmental group of conservative senior citizens -- has been actively holding rallies since 2014 in favor of controversial government policies. They include the reinstatement of state-authored history textbooks for secondary school students, the comfort women deal struck between South Korea and Japan and passage of labor market reform bills and an antiterrorism bill.

The radically conservative group has also stirred the pot by staging rallies against the families of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster, blasting them for politicizing the Sewol ferry issue and being North Korean sympathizers.

According to local news reports and legal industry sources, the group had received about 520 million won ($450,000) from the Federation of Korean Industries to orchestrate pro-government rallies between 2012 and 2014.
Members of the Korea Parent Federation collide with activists participating in a regular rally held in front of the comfort women statue in Seoul on Jan. 6. (Yonhap)
Members of the Korea Parent Federation collide with activists participating in a regular rally held in front of the comfort women statue in Seoul on Jan. 6. (Yonhap)
The FKI -- a private interest group representing the nation’s big businesses like Samsung and LG -- wired the money to the parents’ group through a bank account under the name of the now-defunct Bethel Missionary Foundation, the report claimed. The missionary group is thought to be a “paper company” to funnel the money.

The FKI has remained silent, refusing to confirm whether it provided funds to the parents’ group.

Part of the money was allegedly spent on giving 1,259 North Korean defectors 20,000 won each to participate in some 39 rallies held by the group, weekly magazine Sisa Journal reported last week.

It also suggested that Heo Hyun-joon, a low-ranking official at Cheong Wa Dae, had asked the secretary general of the KPF to hold a demonstration in support of President Park’s settlement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the wartime sexual enslavement last year.

Cheong Wa Dae repeatedly denied its alleged meddling in hosting such pro-government rallies by the parents’ group. Heo sought a court injunction Friday to ban the sale of the weekly magazine and filed a complaint against Sisa Journal and its reporter demanding compensation. He also asked the Press Arbitration Commission correct the reports.  

The National Intelligence Service is also suspected of influencing the right-wing group to sway public opinion in favor of President Park during the 2012 presidential election. Prosecutors on Monday argued at the trial of the former chief of the spy agency that an NIS official gave instructions to the parents’ group.

Choo Sun-hee, secretary-general of the KRP, recently made comments indicating a potential link to the government, saying he had exchanged text messages and phone calls with the Cheong Wa Dae official in regards to the demonstration.

He also said the group had received funds “indirectly” from the FKI through the missionary foundation. He claimed money was mostly used to feed the elderly and North Korean refugees.

But he denied their activities had any political ambition or motivation.

“What we have done was for this country. We will not sit back and bear any acts denouncing our motive. We have fought hard to protect the nation’s identity and freedom,” Choo said in a press briefing Friday in its office in central Seoul. “We will take stern action against the press trying to annihilate us. ... We don’t take orders from anyone and we do only the things we would like to do.”

Since the press conference, Choo has stayed out of the public eye. The KPF planned to hold a rally in front of local broadcaster JTBC’s building in Seoul on Monday, but that was canceled without prior notice.

The Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and an association of seven students’ groups recently stepped up calls for the prosecution to investigate the suspicions surrounding the alleged state and conglomerate-sponsored rallies, filing a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

“The public is outraged by ugly connections among Cheong Wa Dae’s order, the FKI’s funds and the KPF’s demonstration,” the students’ group said Friday in front of the prosecutors’ office. “The government has a duty to investigate the case and the FKI should reveal its bank statements on funding the parents’ group.”

By Ock Hyun-ju(