SOUTH KOREA
image

Park Geun-hye

South Korea’s presidential scandal expands to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as investigators scrutinise organisers

Kim Chong, who served as vice sports minister for three years until last month, is accused of helping Choi Soon-sil’s foundations win lucrative state contracts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 3:42pm

South Korean prosecutors questioned a former vice sports minister on Wednesday as their probe into the corruption scandal engulfing President Park Geun-hye spreads to preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Park is under pressure over her shadowy confidant Choi Soon-sil, who is accused of using her personal ties with the president to coerce local firms to donate millions of dollars to non-profit foundations Choi then used for personal gain.

Kim Chong, who served as vice sports minister for three years until last month, is accused of helping Choi’s foundations win lucrative state contracts. He was mobbed by reporters as he walked into the Seoul prosecutors’ office Wednesday, TV footage showed.

He is also accused of pressuring a former head of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games organising committee to resign after he refused to award a contract to a firm linked with Choi.

Cho Yang-ho, the chairman of Korean Air, took the helm at the committee in 2014 when it was struggling with construction delays and funding problems. He is widely credited with turning the situation around and bringing in big-name sponsorship – but abruptly resigned in May.

He has said media reports he was forced out by Kim for refusing to help Choi are “90 per cent correct”.

Prosecutors are also investigating whether Kim played a role in a recent decision by his ministry to provide a cash subsidy to a winter sports foundation run by Choi’s niece, who is widely seen as her key aide.

Choi, whose father was a shady religious figure and a long-time mentor to Park until his death in 1994, was arrested earlier this month for abuse of power and fraud. Two presidential aides have also been arrested.

As the probe widens, investigators have grilled the heads of some of the country’s top conglomerates including Samsung and Hyundai, and on Tuesday raided the offices of Samsung’s advertising unit.

Prosecutors are also seeking to quiz Park over her role in the scandal – which could make her the first South Korean president to be questioned while in office.

Under South Korea’s constitution, the incumbent president cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason. But many have argued the sitting president can be investigated by prosecutors and then charged after leaving office.

Park has seen her approval ratings plunge, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to Seoul’s streets on Saturday demanding she resign.