Culture ministry admits it granted favors to Cha

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Culture ministry admits it granted favors to Cha

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism admitted that it granted favors to Cha Eun-taek, a TV commercials director and confidant of Choi Soon-sil, in funding and supporting Cha’s musical “One Day,” which President Park Geun-hye attended in 2014 and gave a rave review.

Cha is accused of using his ties to Choi, the friend of President Park who is alleged to have been the power behind the throne for years, to plan high-profile cultural events, win extravagant government funds and sweep up advertisement deals for projects at the culture ministry.

The culture ministry on Monday released the results of its preliminary investigations into projects at the ministry related to Choi and Cha, and announced that it will cut 89.2 billion won ($78.5 million) from its budget for 2017 in 39 projects suspected to have been directed by the two.

The ministry had examined 41 projects costing 305.7 billion won.

The announcement follows Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun’s statement last week that the ministry will “cease all projects suspected to have ties with Choi and Cha,” even if the allegations are not completely proven.

“The ministry has come to the conclusion for now that Cha used his ties to Choi in winning the budget and executing his musical, ‘One Day,’” the ministry said in its statement on Monday.

The musical was hosted by Africa Pictures, where Cha is the CEO, and Padaf (Play Act Dance Art-Tech Festival), and directed by Cha. It received 330 million won from the culture ministry.

Still, not all projects suspected to have ties with Choi and Cha are being turned over, including those of the controversial Cultural Creation and Convergence Belt (CEL).

The CEL is a cultural business project led by Cha since last year, which had a planned government budget of 611.2 billion won from 2014 to 2019. The original purpose of the project was to create a cultural business belt connecting Seoul, Ilsan in Gyeonggi and Seogwipo in Jeju. It received President Park’s full support at its opening ceremony.

Its budget jumped exponentially since Cha took charge of the project, drawing suspicion that Cha may have used his ties to secure the extravagant budget. Reports pointed out that the CEL also received more than a trillion won from business giant CJ Group, yet the ministry did not shut down its project to create the CEL Venture Complex, which was to promote Korean culture worldwide.

“The surgical removal of part of the project alleged to have ties with Choi and Cha will enable it to go on,” the ministry said. It cut the project’s 55.5 billion won budget to 39.2 billion won.

Another subsidiary project of the CEL designed to train creative content artists saw its budget cut from 30.9 billion won to 25.8 billion won.

“Many creative content artists with potential will lose opportunities to build start-ups if the project is completely shut down,” the ministry said.

The ministry did shut down the 1 billion won budget for the Creative Center for Convergence Culture and the 8.6 billion won budget to connect projects at the Center for Creative Economy and Innovation with those at the CEL.

Still, the ministry denied corruption allegations surrounding the controversial group exercise directed by Cha last year. The group exercise cost 580 million won and abruptly replaced one that was being developed by the culture ministry for a budget of about 200 million won in March, drawings suspicion that it was yet another favor bestowed upon Cha.

“Allegations have not been refuted yet and we are still investigating the matter,” the ministry said. “But the ministry confirmed that there were no illegal favors involved in the money paid Cha for directing it.”

Cha’s ghost company received 97.6 million won for creating a mere 10-minute video for the routine.

BY CHAE YOON-KYUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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