Choi’s Germany trip was on SamsungSamsung Electronics, the country’s largest listed company, picked up the tab for a sojourn by Choi Soon-sil, the controversial friend of President Park Geun-hye, and her daughter to Germany last year, the JoongAng Ilbo learned Tuesday.
Choi, 60, is a prime suspect in the abuse of power scandal that led to the impeachment of Park earlier this month. The prosecution indicted Choi in November on charges of abuse of power, coercion, attempted coercion and attempted fraud, making clear that the president is a co-conspirator in all of her alleged crimes. Park was impeached on Dec. 9 for alleged violations of the constitution and criminal laws.
Samsung has been accused of generously sponsoring the 20-year-old daughter of Choi, Chung Yoo-ra. Chung was a gold medalist in dressage in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, and suspicions were raised that the tech giant financed some of Chung’s activities as an equestrian athlete, such as buying a horse, Vitana V, reportedly worth 1 billion won ($838,574).
Independent Counsel Park Young-soo obtained data to prove that Samsung paid for Choi and her daughter’s stay in Germany last year, the JoongAng Ilbo confirmed Tuesday based on documents and remarks from informed sources.
Investigators questioned Samsung executives as to why it paid the expenses and how the money was transferred.
The independent counsel team secured a record of detailed living expenses and a list of money transactions and receipts for Choi and Chung during their stay in Germany. The document covers their stay in the country from June 23 to Sep. 21, 2015.
“Choi withdrew all her living expenses that she spent in Germany last year from the contribution Samsung Electronics later offered to Core Sports,” said a former Core Sports official who stayed in Germany with Choi and Chung at the time. The company, established in August 2015, was later renamed Widec Sports.
Core Sports signed a consulting contract with Samsung Electronics and received money by filing invoices for expenses required for Chung’s equestrian training.
“They filed the first expense invoice to Samsung Electronics at the end of last year,” said the former official of the Core Sports. “They requested 810,000 euros ($841,632) for all the expenses they spent since May last year, and I was surprised that Samsung paid all the money without asking a single question.”
The expenses report showed that Choi and Chung charged Samsung even for the smallest expenses. The details ranged from 2.1 euros for a cup of coffee and 4.9 euros for ice cream. They also charged expenses to raise their pets and to buy articles for baby care, such as a baby bathtub. Chung reportedly had a child last year.
Before the independent counsel took over the case, the prosecution’s special investigation team discovered that Samsung sent about 8 billion won to Core Sports for equestrian training programs. Rep. Do Jong-hwan of the Minjoo Party of Korea also recently made public a copy of Samsung’s consulting contract with Core Sports worth 22 billion won.
Samsung said that the contract was to support six equestrian athletes, not just Chung.
The independent counsel’s team recently questioned Park Sang-jin, Samsung Electronics’ president for corporate relations and head of the Korea Equestrian Federation. Samsung Electronics President Chang Choong-ki, head of its Future Strategy Office, was also questioned.
Park and Chang were witnesses in the prosecution’s earlier investigation.
The independent counsel’s team is trying to find a link between Samsung’s generosity toward Choi and Chung and the National Pension Service’s approval of a controversial merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries last year. The $8 billion deal solidified heir apparent Lee Jae-yong’s grip on Samsung Electronics.
The prosecution investigated whether the Blue House strong-armed the state-run pension fund into backing the merger. It failed to prove the suspicion.
Determining the nature of the money Samsung gave to Choi and Chung — whether it was bribes for favors or not — is the top priority of investigators at the independent counsel, a source from the law enforcement authority told the JoongAng Ilbo.
The independent counsel’s team will conduct raids on Samsung as early as today. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong has been banned from overseas travel in connection with the probe.
BY IM JANG-HYUK, SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]