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Park Geun-hye

South Korea’s political scandal deepens as Park’s confidante alleged to have bid for Winter Olympics projects

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 3:42pm

A long-time close friend of South Korea’s embattled President Park Geun-hye who is at the centre of a political scandal is also alleged to have caused a delay to preparations for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as a result of involvement in an Olympics-related business, media reported on Tuesday.

A company set up by Choi Soon-sil made an offer to a Swiss company to cooperate in projects to build facilities for the winter Games earlier this year and arranged a meeting with officials from the Swiss company in Seoul.

The meeting was attended by Ahn Jong-beom, then senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, apparently to support the efforts by Choi’s company. Ahn is one of the three senior secretaries sacked by President Park over the weekend for their alleged involvement in an influence-peddling scandal. However, the Olympic Organising Committee ultimately did not accept the bid submitted by the Swiss company.

The involvement of Choi’s company in the projects caused a delay in the start of preparations for the games, which will take place on February 9-25 next year in Pyeongchang, some 180km east of Seoul.

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Choi, 60, was detained late on Monday after being questioned at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office amid allegations that she interfered in state affairs, accessed classified presidential office documents and embezzled government money.

Choi, a civilian who holds no government position, is alleged to have accessed Park’s speeches and top-secret national security documents without clearance and influenced personnel appointments.

She is also alleged to have controlled two foundations whose establishment was financed with money that local reports said came from companies with the Federation of Korean Industries.

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It is alleged the government strong-armed the companies into chipping in, and that some of the money went to paper companies set up by Choi. The scandal sparked a public outrage, triggering street protests calling for Park’s impeachment or resignation.

Approval ratings for Park, whose five-year single term ends in about 16 months, tumbled to a new low of the 10-percent range.