South Korean President’s Alleged Relationship With Controversial “Shaman-Mentor” Resurfaces Amid The Disaster In Itaewon

The “mentor” made some highly inflammatory statements about the Itaewon crowd surge victims.

Content Warning

This article includes descriptions of graphic content that may disturb some readers.

In a nation mourning the 156 lives lost in the Itaewon crowd surge, a self-proclaimed cult-leading guru is gaining attention for his inflammatory statements about the disaster and its victims.

Who is he, and how come Koreans are outraged by his presence?

“Master” Chungong | @jungbub2013/YouTube

On November 2, Master Chungong (born Lee Byung Cheol), who has been referred to by one international news outlet as a “Rasputin-like speaker,” uploaded a lecture-esque video to his YouTube channel in which he answered questions from his audience. In the video, an audience member brought up the Itaewon disaster and asked what Korea’s leaders should do for the nation to recover.

World leaders are sending their condolences. How should the leaders of Korea go about recovering from the incident and interact with other world leaders?

— Chungong

Chungong responded to the question by stating that the fatal stampede was “an opportunity” for the country and, seemingly, justified the lives lost as “a sacrifice.”

| @jungbub2013/YouTube

We keep receiving good opportunities. The sacrifice of our children’s lives needed to be this grand in order for the world to start looking at us. For this sacrifice to not be in vain, we must make wise use of this opportunity to do something that adds light to this world.

— Chungong

Chungong then warned against those who sought accountability for what happened in Itaewon, referring to the country’s leaders as “adults” who were, too, affected.

You have to give the adults time to recover. You shouldn’t try to place the responsibility on anybody.

— Chungong

Chungong’s statements were immediately criticized by Koreans who rebuked him and expressed bewilderment at his remarks. Most accused him of using the disaster for attention and condemned him for “spewing bullsh*t.”

Online response to Chungong’s latest video. | Naver

  • “This f*cker is obviously not even human. Otherwise, how could he spew such bullsh*t?!”
  • “The d*mned fools who serve this maniac as a mentor are the real problem, though.”

Among the outrage, however, some Koreans ended up pointing out Chungong’s alleged relationship with none other than  the South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol. These comments believed Chungong’s responses to be proof of the long-following allegations that the President subscribes to shamanism and mysticism—especially based on the Chungong’s attempt to diminish the blame on the government.

Online response to Chungong’s latest video. | theqoo

  • “Korea picked the wrong president… Now we suffer by having to watch stuff like this.”
  • “A vermin on the loose.”
  • “This is sending chills down my back, seriously.”
  • “What demon is this, ruining the future of Korea? How would these deaths ever be opportunities? I don’t know much about spirituality, but I know that it’s the good that changes the world, not disasters. You demon.”
  • “He sounds insane. Is his ultimate goal to destroy Korea forever?”
  • “Satan.”
  • “This is ridiculous. Like absolutely ridiculous. Get your sh*t together, Yoon Suk Yeol. Don’t look to someone like this to be your mentor.”
  • ‘The sacrifice of our children’s lives needed to be this grand’? EXCUSE ME?”

So who is Chungong?

According to his autobiography, Chungong was born in 1952. Not much is known about his younger years, but he claims to have withdrawn to the mountains at the age of 33 in 1985, to study and meditate for 17 years. Chungong first uploaded his YouTube video in 2011 and has steadily uploaded “teachings” of “Jungbub,” his cult, ever since.

Chungong’s YouTube channel | @jungbub2013/YouTube

The self-proclaimed guru’s past claims include:

  • “Cancer can be cured with his hands.”
  • “COVID-19 is spread among those that live with evil thoughts.”
  • “Ghosts of criminals who get banished by the nation are trapped in a different dimension.”

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s alleged relationship with Chungong first came to light during his campaign to be the Presidential candidate for the conservative People Power Party.

During a debate on October 5, 2021, candidate Yoo Seung Min asked Yoon Suk Yeol if he had personal connections with Chungong. At the time, Yoon Suk Yeol acknowledged his relationship with the guru but denied the notion that Chungong was his mentor.

Yoon Suk Yeol (right) telling Yoo Seung Min (left) that he has “Not met with [the guru] since” during the debate. | ChannelA
The then-Presidential candidate would later state that he had met Chungong through his wife. In fact, according to a Joongang Ilbo article released on October 7, 2021, Chungong revealed in an interview with YTN that the First Lady Kim Keon Hee had introduced him to Yoon Suk Yeol.

Yoon Suk Yeol’s acknowledgment of knowing the controversial figure sparked widespread allegations that he subscribed to shamanism.

First Lady Kim Keon Hee | Sisa Journal

I was told that [Kim Keon Hee] had contacted me, so I said I’d wait here. When I met her, she brought the previous Prosecutor General, Yoon Suk Yeol, with her. That’s how I got to know him.

— Chungong

What are the alleged evidences that Chungong is Yoon Suk Yeol’s mentor?

Yoon Suk Yeol’s Retirement as Prosecutor General

In the above-mentioned YTN interview, Chungong also revealed that he had advised Yoon Suk Yeol to retire as Prosecutor General. Yoon Suk Yeol, who was the then-Prosecutor General, retired from his office after a power struggle with former President Moon Jae In.

Former President Moon Jae In (left) with now-President Yoon Suk Yeol (right) | khan

Yoon Suk Yeol, who was appointed to Prosecutor General by Moon Jae In, fell out with the former President when, weeks after the appointment, he sanctioned an investigation into Justice Minister Cho Guk, a close confidant of Moon Jae In.

I coached him that the time to step down would come. I told him if he fought for too long, then all the other prosecutors would suffer and that he should consider this in his decision.

— Chungong

Yoon Suk Yeol denied that Chungong had played a part in his decision to step down. In a Seoul Shinmun article released on October 12, 2021, the then-front runner to be the People Power Party’s Presidential candidate, Yoon Suk Yeol, made it clear that he “distanced [himself]” from his alleged mentor.

The 王 Symbol on Yoon Suk Yeol’s Palm

Despite his denial of his association with Chungong, Yoon Suk Yeol faced fierce public criticism  again when Koreans caught another “hint” of the his alleged subscription to shamanism. During a different debate, the camera captured Yoon Suk Yeol’s left palm with a Chinese character symbolizing “King” written on it.

| YTN

At the time, Yoon Suk Yeol explained that the symbol was written by a supporter. But the leader of the then-ruling Democratic Party, Song Young Gil, chastised Yoon Suk Yeol and claimed the stunt harked back to 2016, when a political scandal ousted the then-President Park Geun Hye for being influenced and corrupted by Choi Soon Sil—the daughter of a shaman-esque cult leader Choi Tae Min.

I’m afraid we will revert back to the Choi Soon Sil era. I don’t know if this was indeed done by those who believe that the President, who is the number one public servant, is a king. But there has been a bewildering incident where (Yoon Suk Yeol) wrote “King” as if it was a shamanistic charm.

— Song Young Gil

Chungong, too, denied being the one who advised Yoon Suk Yeol to write the charm in his palm. But  allegations of the President’s relationship with the man and shamanism continues to this day.

Jungbub Teachings in Government Facilities

In August 2022, a visitor to the Tax Administration Office in Jinju, Southern Gyeongsang Province, revealed that Chungong’s teachings were found on a placard above the bathroom urinals. When JTBC investigated, employees of the office revealed they were instructed to place the placard by their superiors.

Chungong’s teachings in a government building bathroom. | goodmorningcc

A person’s destiny doesn’t change in an instant. Only through time and effort can one improve in the future. Although steady improvement feels slow, in reality it is the fastest.

— Chungong

Intentional Absence from Queen Elizabeth II’s Funeral

On September 18, 2022, President Yoon Suk Yeol was accused of deliberately “missing” the late Queen Elizabeth II‘s funeral service—believed to be due to Chungong’s advice. The President and First Lady initially stated that they had missed the service due to traffic. President of the Policy Committee Kim Sung Hwan, however, alleged that the President had plenty of time to attend the service but didn’t after Chungong uploaded a video that advised the President not to as doing so would expose him to “bad vibes.”

The President and First Lady landing in London. | Newsis

Two days after Chungong uploaded a video stating that he shouldn’t go to the viewing because he’ll be exposed to bad vibes, the President changed his departure schedule was changed. If they had left at seven (as previously planned), they would have had plenty of time to make it to the funeral service. Suppose the President isn’t able to give a clear explanation. In that case, citizens will have to believe that ‘Due to the bad vibes’ that Chungong spoke about, the departure was delayed, and that their President used traffic as an excuse to skip the funeral deliberately.

— President of the Policy Committee Kim Sung Hwang

Yoon Suk Yeol attended the funeral on September 19, 2022—after the service had taken place.

Tak Hyun Min, who served as a protocol secretary of Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae In, said the meaning of signing the condolence book after the funeral cannot be the same as before the service.

‘Yoon should have arrived there earlier, at least by one or two hours,’ he said during an MBC radio program. ‘They committed a discourtesy. The foreign ministry and the office in charge of the president’s protocol are responsible for it.’

— Reporter Jung Min Ho via The Korea Times

The Move Out from the Blue House

The most damning evidence of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s ties to shamanism, though, is his earliest and most ambitious undertaking since becoming President. Yoon Suk Yeol turned heads when, days into his term, he announced that he would be moving the Presidential Office from the Blue House to Yongsan, Seoul.

Yoon Suk Yeol announcing his plans to move out of the Blue House. | Gukje News

The decision has received bi-partisan disapproval, with members of his own party alleging that geomancy—which is tied to shamanism—had played a part in the President’s decision. Yoon Suk Yeol dismissed the allegations.

“That’s an issue that came up in the presidential election, but the Democratic Party seems to be more interested in shamans [than I am]. I’d never written off the idea of [moving the office to] Yongsan, and I considered several options while I was drawing up my campaign pledges.”

— President Yoon Seok Yeol to Hankyoreh

Chungong also denied having directly coached Yoon Suk Yeol about the move, but believed a video of his could have played a role. He also believed “the move to Yongsan [to be] such a great decision.”

It is possible that the President saw my video from three years ago about how Yongsan is going to become the next up-and-coming piece of land. Overall, the move to Yongsan is such a great decision.

— Chungong via YTN

Korean citizens paid a dire consequence for the President’s move to Yongsan, regardless of whether the decision was truly spurred on by superstition or not. Itaewon, the heart of Seoul’s Yongsan District, suffered a national disaster on October 29; But at the time of the tragic crowd surge, the chief of the Yongsan Police Station was occupied controlling an assembly near the new presidential office. And the absence of a central “Control Tower” is said to have caused the police’s complete failure in quick decision-making.

First responders at the scene of the crowd surge disaster in Itaewon. | SBS

While Korean media outlets have since reported that, starting long before the weekend of Halloween, Yongsan Police Station had been struggling with understaffing due to patrolling the area and escorting the President back and forth during his commute to the new Presidential Office, the chief of South Korea’s National Police Agency Yoon Hee Keun admitted fault and apologized for an “inadequate emergency response.”

Following the disaster, as well as the national backlash for the lack of preventative measures, the Yongsan Police Station and the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency are being investigated for negligence.

The Yongsan Police Precinct claims it told the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency it needed additional forces when discussing security measures for Halloween. The Seoul police agency claims there was no such official request. Instead, police forces were dispatched to 21 rallies held in Seoul that day and none to regulate the Halloween celebrations in Itaewon.

A flawed system for how lower-level officers report up the chain of command may have contributed to the slow response and chaos on the night of October 29…

… Some critics are skeptical of police investigating their own botched response to the Itaewon disaster and worry that they will shift the blame to lower level front-line officers.

— Sarah Kim via The JoongAng Daily

So, is Chungong really Yoon Suk Yeol’s mentor?

Both Yoon Suk Yeol and Chungong have firmly stated that, at least after Yoon Suk Yeol officially became a presidential candidate, the two have never met. Contradicting his own claim that he “coached” Yoon Suk Yeol at one point, Chungong also insisted that no “mentorship” exists between the two. A large and growing number of Koreans remain skeptical.

“There’s Desperation In His Eyes”: Footage of Lone Police Officer Trying To Control the Itaewon Crowd Breaks Hearts

Source: Hankyoreh, Joong Ang ilbo, Seoul Shinmun, Yeonhap and JTBC

What's Happening In Korea