THE South Korean presidential office has denied a recent news report claiming President Park Geun-hye spent over 90 minutes getting her hair done during the critical first few hours of the 2014 ferry disaster that claimed hundreds of lives.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, local daily Hankyoreh reported that the president had her hairdresser at the Cheong Wa Dae (presidential office) between 1pm and 3pm on April 16, 2014, which corresponded with the time rescuers frantically searched for survivors in the waters off the southwestern island of Jindo.
The presidential office, however, insists Park’s hairdo and makeup only took 20 minutes and that the two contract-based workers had entered the office at around 3.20pm that the day.
This is not the first time the presidential office has had to quell speculation on the president’s whereabouts in the first seven hours of the ferry sinking. Rumours have continued to swirl since the disaster two years ago but re-emerged recently when the ongoing influence-peddling scandal involving Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil hit headlines.
Among the rumours swirling is that the sinking of the ferry was part of a cult ritual and the victims were “offerings”, or that the president had received plastic surgery during the accident.
According to the Korea Times, the presidential office insists the president was in her office working at the time, bu has never quite given a clear explanation of Park’s whereabouts during those seven hours.
A presidential spokesperson also insisted in November this year that the president received a total of 15 briefings on the tragedy. Yon Hap reports, however, the president’s security staff confirmed there were no outsiders who visited the presidential residence that fateful day.
The country’s supreme court in October last year, sentenced the head of a ferry operator to seven years in prison over the incident for causing death by negligence.
The judges of South Korea’s highest court found Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin Marine Co., responsible for failing to prevent the overloading of cargo and improper storage on the ship, which investigators believe contributed to the sinking, which has been marked the country’s deadliest maritime disaster in decades.
According to Reuters, 13 surviving crew members were also found guilty of various charges which include negligence. They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 20 years.
This came after video footage showed the crew abandoning the vessel after instructing the passengers to remain in their cabins.