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[Newsmaker] Jeongsu Foundation’s legacy too big to ignore

Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation (The Korea Herald)
Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation (The Korea Herald)
It was perhaps what the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Rep. Park Geun-hye has been dreading the most. Following her successful presidential nomination in August, her aides have been bracing for the opponent’s anticipated attack against her purported ties to the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, one of the prominent remnants of her father’s, former President Park Chung-hee, authoritarian rule.

Jeongsu Foundation was initially the Buil Scholarship Foundation, which was set up by Busan-based businessman Kim Ji-tae in 1958. In 1962, a year after the military coup, Park went after Kim who was suspected of flying his assets abroad, leading to the arrest of most of his executive-level employees and his wife. Kim and his crew were set free upon his signed agreement to donate all of his Buil assets, which included his 100-percent stake in the Busan Ilbo newspaper, Busan MBC and MBC. The foundation was renamed the May 15 Foundation, and changed again to Jeongsu Foundation in 1982 by former President Chun Doo-hwan after “Jeong (Chung)” of Park Chung-hee and “Soo” of his wife Yook Young-soo.

Park Geun-hye, who was dedicated to spreading the accomplishments of her father, chaired the foundation from 1995 until 2005. Despite her resignation timed with her political career, progressive opponents took issue with the foundation’s disputed history, helped by the claims of Kim’s descendents that his donation was forced. A local court in February also acknowledged the forcible nature of Kim’s donation. The fact that one of Park’s key aides, Choi Phil-lip, was the next chairman of the board, did not help Park’s claim that she was no longer pertinent to the foundation.

The foundation boasts a wide network of beneficiaries, most significantly by “Cheongohoe,” a gathering of students currently receiving the scholarship and “Sangcheonghoe” of the graduates. The number reaches over 30,000 and they are now serving in various fields of academia, politics and judicial circles.

It now holds 100 percent of the Busan Ilbo shares and 30 percent of MBC, as well as the 723-pyeong tract of land where Kyunghyang Shinmun sits. It doles out nearly 3 billion won in scholarship each year.

Park maintains she is no longer associated with the foundation, and yet her Sunday press conference about her position on Jeongsu was widely covered by the media, indicating that the legacy may be too powerful for her to avoid.

By Lee Joo-hee (