Park Geun-hye

The ‘toy boy’ linked to woman at core of scandal roiling South Korea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 11:32pm

The investigation into the influence-peddling scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s confidant, has shed light on Choi’s clandestine relationship with a host bar worker.

Ko Young-tae, 40, had voluntarily turned up at the prosecutor’s office for questioning last Thursday after entering the country earlier in the day. After a 40-hour investigation into how confidential documents including the president’s speeches reached Choi, he returned home Saturday but was summoned again Sunday.

No details about the interrogation are available, but they came before Choi was questioned Monday by prosecutors in Seoul. Authorities are examining whether Choi used her close ties to Park to pull government strings from the shadows and amass an illicit fortune.

Ko is suspected of managing The Blue K and Widec Sports - paper companies Choi set up in South Korea and Germany allegedly to funnel money away from the Mir and K-Sports foundations.

Little is known about Ko.

He is a former member of the national sabre team, winning a gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.

Being through with sports, Ko worked at well-known host bars in Gangnam, southern Seoul, according to reports and witnesses. A host bar is an establishment where female customers are served by male hosts who engage in conversation as well as sometimes barter for sexual services. The two are believed to have met and become close at one such host bar, around 2006.

“Ko made a lot of money with his good looks,” said an unnamed man who introduced himself as Ko’s co-worker at the bar in a news show on Christian Broadcasting Service (CBS) Radio, on Friday.

“I assume that Choi was one of Ko’s close customers as they are on friendly terms with each other despite the 20-year age gap between them,” he said.

Choi is 60 years old, and the friendly terms despite a two-decade age difference can indicate an intimate relationship, according to reports.

According to the co-worker, Ko was working as a sales director, tasked to bring in rich middle-aged women to the bar using the alias Min-woo.

Having a foot in the fashion industry in 2008 with Choi’s assistance, Ko launched his accessory brand Villomillo. It became famous after President Park carried his bag in 2013. With the instant success, his products drew a lot of celebrity customers and he established a wide range of contacts.

Cha Eun-taek, another embattled figure in charge of Mir Foundation, was Ko’s acquaintance, and Ko introduced Cha to Choi, which marked the turning point of their relationship from good to sour, according to news reports.

“Choi’s favourite thing to do is to edit presidential speeches,” Ko said during an interview with broadcaster JTBC in mid-October.

That comment prompted the cable news channel to look for the president’s speeches in computer files. The JTBC found the files and that turned out to be one of the biggest breaking stories in South Korea in recent years.

This backfired on Choi when she said the tablet computer’s owner is Ko, not her.

“I do not even know how to use a tablet PC,” Choi said during an interview with the Segye Ilbo on Wednesday in Germany.

Widespread media reports say that Choi, who has no official ties to the administration, may have had a major role in government affairs.

Choi, who returned to South Korea from Germany on the weekend, has previously said she helped Park but didn’t know if she was seeing confidential information.

On Monday she was questioned by prosecutors who are examining whether she used her close ties to Park to pull government strings from the shadows and amass an illicit fortune.

Additional reporting by Associated Press