President Park Geun-hye is facing her biggest political crisis, embroiled in a scandal that involves some serious wrongdoings -- corruption, abuse of power and leaking sensitive information to her longtime friend.
Making her fall from grace even more humiliating has been the barrage of revelations that the country’s first female president may have undergone all sorts of anti-aging medical procedures -- even at Cheong Wa Dae when she should have been attending to her official duties.
On Thursday, Cheong Wa Dae officially refuted the speculation, saying it is not possible to perform plastic surgery at Cheong Wa Dae’s medical clinic.
It also said the purchase of some of the disputed medicines by the office was not to augment Park’s appearance, but for the health and well-being of all staff members working at its secretariat and security service at the presidential office.
“It is simply not possible to do cosmetic skin care here at the Blue House medical unit,” Lee Sun-woo, head of the Presidential Office’s medical unit, said in a statement.
A controversy has flared up this week after Cheong Wa Dae’s list of drug purchases was revealed to have contained injection doses of human placenta extract and vitamin shots commonly used for anti-aging and fatigue treatment, as well as pills to treat erectile dysfunction, including Viagra.
According to the list made available by Rep. Kim Sang-hee of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea, Park’s office purchased 323 kinds of medicine worth more than 20 million won ($17,000) between March 2014 and August this year.
Among them was Laennec, for administration via intravenous injection, which is made of human placenta extract and known to improve the function of the liver, remove wrinkles and whiten skin. There were also Fursultiamine, known to help prevent vitamin deficiency, aging and fatigue, and Emla 5 percent, a numbing cream widely used for Botox treatments, laser facial rejuvenation treatments or dermal filler injections.
“Such injections are not prescribed to patients at university hospitals because their safety and efficacy have not been verified,” Oh Sang-woo, a family physician from Dongguk University, said.
The presidential office purchased etomidate-lipuro injections, which are intravenous anesthetic agents and known to have similar effects as propofol. Since propofol was designated as a psychotropic drug in 2011, imports of etomidate-lipuro injections have increased more than six times.
On Viagra and the generic version of the drug in the list, Cheong Wa Dae said a day earlier that it was to ease possible mountain sickness during Park’s visit to high-altitude nations in Africa.
In May, Park went on a trip to Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, whose capitals are some 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers above sea level.
In regard to the purchase of the topical narcotic cream, the main doctor at the presidential office said: “It is to relieve pain of injuries staff members suffer.”
Even before the Cheong Wa Dae medicine provision list was exposed, Park’s secrete anti-aging formula had been the talk of the town. Photos of her taken between 2004 and 2016 have circulated online, with online users alleging she looks years younger now, with less wrinkles and brighter skin than 12 years ago.
A series of local media outlets reported that Park received expensive medical care at the Chaum Clinic, at costs of 150 million won a year, before she was elected president. She was found to have used a bogus name -- Gil-la-im, the name of a female lead in a local TV series in 2011, and is suspected to have not paid for the services.
It was additionally reported that she even visited Chaum Clinic twice in 2013 during the day while serving as president. One of the medical treatments was reportedly for anti-aging by Dr. Kim Sang-man.
Kim, a doctor who worked at Chaum Clinic, is suspected of prescribing vitamin shots to President Park under the name of her confidante Choi Soon-sil. Kim admitted he treated the president on 12 occasions at Chaum Clinic or at the presidential office.
Kim even tested Park’s blood under Choi’s name at his clinic without the knowledge of the official presidential medical staff.
Rep. Kim took issue with the nation’s top leader, whose health information is considered a national secret, having been examined and taken care of by a civilian doctor who holds no government post.
“I doubt that the medical system at Cheong Wa Dae properly worked. I think that President Park’s civilian confidants peddled influence even over the official medical system,” said Rep. Kim in an interview with local media.
Lee Byung-suk, head of Severance Hospital, who served as the first official doctor for Park, said that all the medical staff members from the presidential office were asked not to be present when the doctor Kim treated Park.
Kim had been a family doctor for Choi and her family members since 2011. He was later appointed as one of the president’s medical advisers in 2013. Since he left Chaum Clinic in 2014, he has headed Green Cross I-Med.
But speculations grew that Kim received special favors from the government for the dubious prescriptions for Park, as most of the injection drugs and vitamin shots were found to be made or imported by Green Cross.
The prosecution said Tuesday it will investigate why Park received her prescriptions under Choi’s name at private medical clinics. Kim’s qualification as a doctor have been suspended for 75 days.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org