‘I know nothing’: equestrian champ daughter of ousted president Park’s friend returns to South Korea for corruption probe
She is probably the most loathed 20-year-old in South Korea, the privileged daughter of the woman at the centre of a political scandal that brought down a president.
The equestrian daughter of South Korea’s “Rasputin”, whose lavish lifestyle in Europe was allegedly funded by millions of dollars in bribes, returned home Wednesday to face questioning by prosecutors investigating an influence-peddling scandal that has rocked the country.
Chung Yoo-ra is the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, the close confidante of impeached ex-president Park Geun-Hye and the woman at the heart of the scandal which toppled Park.
Choi - dubbed “the female Rasputin” for her strong influence over Park - is on trial along with the ex-president.
Prosecutors say cash for Chung’s equestrian training came from electronics giant Samsung, which had handed over the money as part of an attempt to curry favour with her powerful mother.
Chung, who was arrested by Danish police in January for overstaying her visa, dropped her appeal against extradition from Denmark last week.
She was arrested on a Korean Air flight from Amsterdam early Wednesday and was escorted off the plane at Incheon by a team of prosecutors to face a handful of journalists and television cameras.
She is accused of receiving bribes from Samsung, illegally moving money abroad and violating South Korean laws on the handling of foreign currency during her stay in Europe.
“I thought it was best to tell my side of the story and resolve the misunderstandings,” said Chung, 20, adding she had no knowledge of the “special treatment” she allegedly received.
“I know nothing about what went on between my mother and the former president, but I feel I was wronged.”
Park was kicked out of office in March amid public disgust at the influence of money on South Korean politics.
Park and Choi are on trial for allegedly accepting or seeking millions of dollars in bribes from the country’s huge conglomerates, including Samsung.
Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong is being tried separately while Shin Dong-bin - the chairman of retail giant Lotte, the South’s fifth-biggest conglomerate - also stands accused.
The spiralling investigation has now caught up with Chung, who was also allegedly granted a place at the prestigious Ewha Womans University and given top grades thanks to her mother’s intervention.
In highly competitive South Korea, admission to one of a handful of elite universities is seen as vital to a student’s future and any perceived unfairness in the procedure sparks anger.
Following months of protest by Ewha students, the school cancelled Chung’s admission.
“I never attended classes so I accept the cancellation of my admission,” said Chung, who is also accused by prosecutors of obstructing business at the school.
“I don’t even know what my major is and I never wanted to go to university so I have nothing to say about it but I’m sorry,” she added, before being taken to Seoul Prosecutors’ Office for questioning.
Prosecutors said Wednesday they intend to seek a seven-year jail term for Choi for her involvement in Chung’s illicit admission, while they said the former dean of Ewha - who has been arrested - could serve five years in prison.
Sentencing for Choi on this charge was set for June 23.
Choi could face decades in jail if convicted of other charges against her in a separate trial. These include abuse of power, coercion and bribery.
Choi told a court Wednesday she hoped people would forgive her daughter, saying: “Yoo-Ra is not such a bad person. I hope people forgive her so that she may live the rest of her life in a right manner.”
Cosy and corrupt ties between South Korea’s business and political elites have endured for decades. But the trial of Park and Choi could shed new light on the links between Park and the bosses of the family-run conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-biggest economy.