Key suspects still at large in Choi Soon-sil probeWhile an investigation into the creation of two foundations has gained momentum, people directly linked to the case remain at large, including Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye’s longtime friend, and Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra.
Choi is suspected to have been behind the creation of the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations by strong-arming conglomerates to make contributions worth 77.4 billion won ($68.4 million) in total. Amid mounting suspicion surrounding her mother and herself, Chung deleted all her social network accounts Saturday. The whereabouts of Choi and Chung remain unknown, but it is reported the two purchased four properties in Germany, including a hotel about 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) northwest of Frankfurt. It is unclear how Choi financed the real estate transactions and investigators are looking into whether money from the foundations was funneled into Widec Sports, a shell company co-run by Choi and her daughter in Germany.
Lee Sung-han, former executive of Mi-R Foundation, also recently disappeared. He was allegedly hired at Mi-R at the recommendation of Cha Eun-taek, a visual artist who earned the nickname “Crown Prince” due to his rapid success during the Park administration. Lee is said to have fallen out with Cha and he was dismissed from the foundation last month.
Since Lee was allegedly involved in shoring up donations worth 48.6 billion won from 19 conglomerates for Mi-R, investigators are trying to locate him and summon him for questioning. Adding to the problems prosecutors face, Cha is said to be in China with his mobile turned off. Cha, a fencing gold medalist at the 1998 Asian Games, is registered as head of the company Blue-K, a paper company set up both in Korea and Germany that is allegedly used to channel money to Choi from the two foundations.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday questioned an official at K-Sports Foundation surnamed Park, who is suspected to have reported to Choi the daily business management of the foundation. Prosecutors have reportedly obtained a list of phone calls between Park and Choi, which could back up allegations that Choi was the de facto owner of the foundation. Park is also said to have helped Choi and her daughter settle in Germany, providing on-site assistance such as arranging a training schedule for the 20-year-old Chung, a dressage athlete.
The prosecution said Monday it dispatched two additional prosecutors for the ongoing probe to form a seven-member team, amid criticism from the opposition Minjoo Party that the current team is understaffed, which critics say is a sign of the prosecution’s reluctance to get to the bottom of the case.
BY KANG JIN-KYU, HYUN IL-HOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]