Probe focuses on Choi’s involvement at Ewha

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Probe focuses on Choi’s involvement at Ewha

The independent counsel investigating the power abuse and corruption scandal of Choi Soon-sil and President Park Geun-hye uncovered evidence that Choi and a former Ewha Womans University president spoke frequently on the phone, supporting allegations that she pulled strings so her daughter could receive preferential treatment at the university.

Chung Yoo-ra, who is being detained by authorities in the northern Danish city of Aalborg, is accused of receiving unjust admission to and preferential treatment at Ewha Womans University. The 20-year-old is also central to the probe into the corruption scandal involving the Korea Equestrian Federation and Samsung Electronics.

“We found records that Choi Kyung-hee, former president of Ewha, and Choi Soon-sil spoke on the phone myriad of times,” said an official of the independent counsel on Thursday. The team had access to phone calls made in 2016, as the records are kept for only a year.

Choi Kyung-hee, who resigned last year when the allegations that Chung received preferential treatment at Ewha first arose, testified at the National Assembly hearing on Dec. 15 that she “only met Chung’s mother twice.”

The independent counsel said on Friday it will ask the parliamentary committee investigating the Choi-gate scandal to sue former president Choi for false testimony.

It summoned on Thursday Namkung Gon, former dean of admissions at Ewha who is suspected to have pulled stings behind the scene for Chung, so that she could be admitted to the university under special circumstances.

In 2014, Namkung allegedly ordered admissions officers to “pick the student with a gold medal.” Chung walked into the interview room carrying the gold medal she won at the Asian Games that year. Though it was won after the date acknowledged by the board of admissions, the rules were reportedly bent for Chung.

The counsel suspects that Choi, the former president, ordered Kim Kyung-sook, former dean of the College of Science and Industry Convergence, where Chung was enrolled, to instruct Namkung to give Chung special treatment at the university.

Additionally, records of the Ministry of Education, submitted to the office of the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea Rep. Kim Byung-wook, revealed that the mother-and-daughter pair met with six university staff, including the former president and former dean Kim, on one day in April last year.

“We shared our greetings and I encouraged her to be a good athlete,” former president Choi said when asked about the meeting at a parliamentary hearing.

Park confidante Choi and Chung then met Kim, the former dean, who reportedly introduced the two to Lee Won-joon and Yi Kyung-ock, both professors of the college. The two are accused of awarding Chung passing grades despite the fact that her reports were filled with typos and expletives.

When asked in a parliamentary hearing last month if she had pressured Chung’s professors to grant her good grades under Choi’s request, Kim answered, “I have never done so. It is a professor’s individual right to award grades as he or she sees fit.”

According to the Education Ministry records, professors Lee and Yi then invited the pair to their offices separately and gave them individual consultations on academic matters. Lee reportedly invited two more professors to his office and introduced them to Choi and Chung.

“The Ewha professors have systematically and progressively met with Choi and Chung to give them preferential treatment,” Rep. Kim said. “It seems professors even gave Chung tips on getting good grades in their classes.”

But the professors have denied the allegations.

The independent counsel detained with a warrant professor Ryu Chul-kyun of Ewha on Tuesday. Ryu is accused of making an employee of his department take a test on behalf of Chung. Ryu told the counsel that he did it because Kim, the former dean, had asked him to give preferential treatment to Chung.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to file a request to the Danish government by the weekend to extradite Chung. A local court in Denmark decided to detain her until Jan. 30. She was arrested on Sunday for illegally staying in the country.

If Chung chooses to file for protection from extradition, the legal process to return her to Korea may be lengthened.

Chung’s case is another branch of the independent counsel’s probe into Choi, as Samsung, the largest benefactor of two nonprofit foundations that Choi practically controlled, had pledged 22 billion won ($18.5 million) for Chung’s equestrian training.

BY ESTHER CHUNG AND MOON HYUN-KYUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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