Park fired 8 officials over Yoo-ra protest

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Park fired 8 officials over Yoo-ra protest

A sequence of events suggests President Park Geun-hye dismissed eight officials of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2014 because an audit she had requested did not provide a favorable result for the daughter of Park’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, Chung Yoo-ra, according to a recently aired special report by JTBC.

After winning second place at an equestrian competition in April 2013, Chung Yoo-ra filed a complaint with the Korean Equestrian Foundation (KEF) demanding that the judges be investigated. Three months later, during a cabinet meeting on July 23, Park called for an investigation into corruption in the sports community, with particular emphasis on the KEF.

“I found it odd that the Blue House gave a direct order for an audit of the KEF,” Yoo Jin-ryong, a former culture minister who stepped down in July 2014, told the JoongAng Ilbo, “since it’s such a small organization.”

The investigation revealed that the KEF was “riddled with corruption,” Yoo said. Nevertheless, Park demanded the dismissal of two ministry officials involved in the audit, a rare move considering the two were intermediate-level officials. Yoo, who subsequently resigned, said about his decision to step down, “I figured there was no sense in doing my job as a minister under such conditions.”

Yoo also said after his resignation, six more officials were sacked in what he called a “massacre at the culture ministry.” One of them, a man surnamed Choi, told the JoongAng Ilbo he was asked to quit by a vice minister “for the sake of the ministry,” adding, “I knew I had no choice but to go. After Minister Yoo stepped down, there was word that the ministry was looking at officials’ personal ties to Yoo, as well as their political leanings.”

As a result of the so-called massacre, Yoo said, “the next officials in line knew they would have no choice but to blindly follow orders. Word of the massacre soon spread to every government body, and what you see next is the ministry approving the establishment of two foundations just one day after the applications were filed.”

The culture ministry approved the establishment of the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations just one day after their applications were filed. The two foundations are suspected to have been virtually created by Choi Soon-sil, who is accused of strong-arming companies to give the foundations a total of 77.4 billion won ($68.4 million). After prosecutors launched an investigation into the foundations, it was discovered Choi had fled to Germany with her daughter.

Park recently apologized to the nation after it was revealed Choi frequently had access to her speeches in advance. Similarly, the recent JTBC report also noted that Choi already had a draft of Park’s talking points for the July 23 cabinet meeting saved on her computer almost three hours before it took place. Government documents also show the draft on Choi’s computer prioritized targeting equestrian organizations in the audit.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, JUNG AH-RAM [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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