Painter says he didn’t know Cho sold work

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Painter says he didn’t know Cho sold work

In a rare interview with local media, Song Ki-chang, 60, the man who says he has been painting on Cho Young-nam’s behalf since 2010, doing most of the work and receiving only 10 percent of the proceeds, claimed he was “unaware” that the Korean singer, author, television personality, radio show host and artist who rose to mega-stardom in the 1970s and 80s was making money from his work.

The three-minute segment, which aired Monday evening during a prime-time news show on broadcaster SBS, comes at a time when prosecutors appear to be struggling to find substantial evidence for a fraud charge against the 70-year-old celebrity.

Authorities have claimed before they were focusing on whether anyone had purchased Cho’s paintings under the false belief that they were personally made by him.

Prosecutors said Monday before the interview aired that they were facing difficulty summoning Cho’s clients for questioning because they all refused to cooperate. During the process, prosecutors reportedly found out that Cho said he would reimburse the buyers, leading them to wonder whether Cho had pressured potential witnesses to remain silent. Cho has adamantly denied the accusation.

So far, 15 to 16 pieces made by the ghost-painter, whom Cho refers to as his “assistant,” were found to have been sold. The assistant, Song, claims he has painted around 200 pieces for Cho since 2010.

If Song really didn’t know about the sales, Monday’s interview will likely be a strong indicator that Cho’s clients were unaware of the existence of a ghost-painter while purchasing the paintings from Cho. This, however, does not explain how Song could have been receiving 10 percent of the proceeds, as he also claims. Sources in the local art industry who have knowledge of Cho’s work said his paintings, mostly inspired by hwatu, a Korean card came known as Go-Stop, usually sell for millions of won or up to tens of millions of won.

Song earlier revealed text messages between himself and Cho’s manager in which the manager named the titles of paintings and explicitly ordered Song to paint more of them. Prosecutors have quoted Song as saying he paints 90 percent of a work, allowing the singer to finish and sign it. Prosecutors said Tuesday that the manager was questioned for 11 hours on Monday and that he also became subject to a fraud charge. Cho will be summoned after prosecutors find more paintings almost entirely drawn by Song.

“He [Cho] would always order me to execute the most difficult things,” Song told the SBS on Monday, adding, “He can’t do any of the details.”

Sometimes, Cho would tell him to draw “however” he wished, said Song. “We never discussed money and I never requested a certain amount. He just gave me whatever.” Song, however, was not clear what he wanted from Cho and why he decided to come clean. Cho has so far canceled most of his concerts and exhibitions after the scandal broke earlier this month.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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