Arrests sought for culture minister and former chief of staff

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Arrests sought for culture minister and former chief of staff

The independent counsel team investigating the power abuse and corruption scandal of President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil sought warrants to formally arrest the country’s culture minister and a former presidential chief of staff on Wednesday night over allegations the Park administration blacklisted cultural figures deemed critical of the government.

Minister Cho Yoon-sun and former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon are being charged with abusing their authority, said the counsel team investigating an influence-peddling scandal that led to the president’s impeachment last month.

The Seoul Central District Court will hold a hearing today to review the legality of detaining the two suspects.

Cho served as the senior presidential secretary for political affairs from 2014 to 2015 and became the culture minister last year. Kim was the presidential chief of staff from 2013 to 2015.

The latest decision to seek the arrest of Cho and Kim came shortly after the independent counsel team questioned them from Tuesday to early Wednesday.

The counsel suspects that the two were the masterminds behind the alleged creation and management of the blacklist intended to block artists critical of the government from receiving state support.

The list is known to have nearly 10,000 people on it, including author Han Kang, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, and director Park Chan-wook, who won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

The counsel’s spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said last week, “the creation and execution of the blacklist severely infringes upon the people’s freedom of thought and expression.”

Both Cho and Kim have been flatly denying the allegations raised against them.

The independent counsel requested this week that the National Assembly’s special committee, which investigated the Choi-gate scandal, sue Kim for perjury.

Lee said earlier they are investigating whether President Park was involved in the creation of the list.

“We found traces that the president was involved,” said an insider to the counsel.

In an earlier abuse-of-authority case by a presidential chief of staff, the Supreme Court ruled Park Jie-won, former chief of staff to late former President Kim Dae-jung, guilty in 2003.

“The presidential chief of staff has certain authority over what the president does,” the court ruled, “and therefore in this case Park is found guilty of abusing that power granted him.”

“In a case concerning an abuse of authority of a presidential chief of staff, the crux of the matter always lies in how the court defines that authority,” said a lawyer who was previously a senior judge. “This will have to be determined in Kim’s trial, as well.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG, IM JANG-HYUK AND YONHAP [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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