Choi’s niece allegedly flaunted ties with Park

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Choi’s niece allegedly flaunted ties with Park

Jang Si-ho, the niece of President Park Geun-hye’s confidante Choi Soon-sil, who stands accused of influence-peddling, boasted about her alleged relations with the president to people she met in her 20s, many of whom were well-to-do athletes, singers and celebrities, a close acquaintance revealed.

“I met Choi for the first time, with her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, around 2000 or 2001,” said the 40-year-old man who identified himself as a longtime acquaintance of Jang. “Jang introduced Choi to me as ‘my aunt who is President Park’s aide.’”

Park’s official aide at the time was Choi’s ex-husband Chung Yoon-hoi, who served as chief of staff from 1998, when Park was elected a lawmaker, to 2004. Choi’s friendship with Park, though, reportedly dates back to 1979, when she attended a Saemaul (New Village) Movement event at Hanyang University with Park.

Choi faces allegations that she was a kind of power behind the throne for years, influencing top national security decisions and personnel appointments in the administration as well as strong-arming conglomerates into donating to foundations allegedly connected to her. Choi was taken into custody by prosecutors last week.

“Jang, in her 20s, was known as the daughter of an elite family who was loaded,” the acquaintance said. “She wore and carried name-brand products. Once, I sat down with Jang and her friends at a bar, and these friends, who are third-generation descendants of conglomerate owners, practically waited on her even though she was much younger than them.”

Jang, 37, is the daughter of Choi’s sister Choi Sook-deuk, who was one of President Park’s classmates at Sacred Heart Girls’ High School in Yongsan District, central Seoul. Recent reports have surfaced that Choi Sook-deuk’s close relations with Park also goes back years.

Jang is alleged to have risen in the ranks of the sports industry by profiting off her ties to Choi. Jang is de facto head of the Korea Winter Sports Elite Center, which has been mired in controversy for receiving 670 million won ($586,970) in government funds from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism before its official opening.

Jang is close friends with Lee Kyu-hyuk, a former long-track speed skater who is now executive director at Jang’s center. Lee is alleged to have received favors in the sports industry using his relations to Jang.

Lee was the 10th president of the Korea Skating Union in 2015, even as the Sports Ministry at the time was pushing through an anticorruption campaign in the industry. Lee’s father was president of the union from 1992 to 2000, and his mother was president of the union from 2000 to 2015.

“I knew Jang since we went to the same middle school, and we were close friends,” Lee recently told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I didn’t know Jang had such a wealthy background. I merely thought she had a rich supporter.”

BY PARK YU-MI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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