Prosecutors arrest Choi’s niece

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Prosecutors arrest Choi’s niece

Prosecutors on Friday arrested Jang Si-ho, the niece of Choi Soon-sil, the controversial friend of President Park Geun-hye who is at the center of a political scandal threatening the legitimacy of the Park administration.

Prosecutors arrested the 37-year-old Jang with a court warrant on Friday near her relative’s home in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on charges that she embezzled money from the Korea Winter Sports Elite Center (Kwsec), which she virtually created and managed by herself.

Jang is alleged to have risen in the ranks of the sports industry by profiting from her ties to her aunt Choi. Jang is the de facto head of the sports training center, which has been mired in controversy for receiving 670 million won ($566,679) in government funds from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Jang is the daughter of Choi’s sister, Choi Soon-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 Soon-deuk’s has been close to Park for years.

Prosecutors demanded on Thursday a pre-trial detention warrant for Kim Chong, vice culture minister, on the suspicion that he had pressured Samsung Electronics to contribute 1.6 billion won to the youth elite center.

With Jang in custody, the special investigation team is expected to investigate the extent to which Choi and her family embezzled funds from the government and conglomerates. Choi stands accused of extorting 77.4 billion won from 53 conglomerates for two nonprofit foundations. The foundations, Mi-R and K-Sports, are believed to be slush funds for President Park once she steps down in February 2018.

Prosecutors are considering describing Park as an accomplice to Choi’s activities in their indictment of Choi, which is expected to be filed with a court by Sunday. Prosecutors said they would also file indictments for two of Park’s most trusted former aides. An Chong-bum, former presidential senior secretary for policy coordination, stands accused of helping Choi strong-arm conglomerates into donating to Mi-R and K-Sports. Jeong Ho-seong, former personal secretary for Park for 18 years until he stepped down from his post on Oct. 30, is accused of leaking presidential documents to Choi under direct order of Park. Local media reported earlier this week prosecutors obtained a recording of a conversation from Jeong’s mobile phone in which Park ordered him to deliver classified presidential material to Choi.

How prosecutors are going to describe Park’s involvement in Choi’s scandal will be determined by an analysis of the evidence and testimonies collected so far, prosecutors said Friday.

“Whether to state in the indictments President Park committed a crime or not will be determined by an objective assessment of all evidence so far collected from questioning witnesses and suspects and confiscated material,” said a prosecutor involved in the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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