Choi's daughter returns to face questioning

Investigators from the South Korean prosecutors' office escort Chung Yoo Ra after her arrival at Incheon International Airport yesterday from Amsterdam.
Investigators from the South Korean prosecutors' office escort Chung Yoo Ra after her arrival at Incheon International Airport yesterday from Amsterdam.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Equestrian daughter of key figure in Korean bribery scandal says she wants to tell her side of story

SEOUL •The equestrian daughter of South Korea's "Rasputin", whose lavish lifestyle in Europe was allegedly funded by millions of dollars in bribes, returned home yesterday to face questioning by prosecutors investigating an influence-peddling scandal that has rocked the country.

Chung Yoo Ra is the daughter of Choi Soon Sil, the close confidante of impeached former president Park Geun Hye and the woman at the heart of the scandal that toppled Park. Choi was dubbed "the female Rasputin" for her strong influence over the former president.

Prosecutors say cash for Chung's equestrian training came from electronics giant Samsung, which had handed over the money as part of an attempt to curry favour with her powerful mother.

Chung, who was with her infant son when she was arrested by Danish authorities in January for overstaying her visa, dropped her appeal against extradition from Denmark last week. "As my baby son has not been able to spend time with the family, I thought it would be better for me to return to South Korea to sort out misunderstanding over the scandal," Chung told reporters.

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She was arrested on a Korean Air flight from Amsterdam early yesterday and was escorted off the plane at Incheon by a team of prosecutors to face a handful of journalists and television cameras.

Chung is accused of receiving bribes from Samsung, illegally moving money abroad and violating South Korean laws on the handling of foreign currency during her stay in Europe. "I thought it was best to tell my side of the story and resolve the misunderstandings," said Chung, 20, adding that she had no knowledge of the "special treatment" she allegedly received. "I know nothing about what went on between my mother and the former president, but I feel I was wronged."

Park was kicked out of office in March amid public disgust at the influence of money on South Korean politics. Park and Choi are on trial for allegedly accepting or seeking millions of dollars in bribes from the country's huge conglomerates.

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong is being tried separately while Shin Dong Bin, chairman of retail giant Lotte, also stands accused.

The spiralling investigation has now caught up with Chung, who was also allegedly granted a place at the prestigious Ewha Womans University and given top grades due to her mother's intervention.

In highly competitive South Korea, admission to one of a handful of elite universities is seen as vital to a student's future and any perceived unfairness in the procedure sparks anger. Following months of protest by Ewha students, the school cancelled Chung's admission.

"I never attended classes so I accept the cancellation of my admission," said Chung, who is also accused by prosecutors of obstructing business at the school. "I don't even know what my major is and I never wanted to go to university so I have nothing to say about it but I'm sorry," she added, before being taken to Seoul Prosecutors' Office for questioning.

Prosecutors said yesterday they intend to seek a seven-year jail term for Choi for her involvement in Chung's illicit admission, while they said the former dean of Ewha, who has been arrested, could serve five years in prison. Sentencing for Choi on this charge was set for June 23. She could face decades in jail if convicted of other charges against her in the separate trial.

Choi told a court yesterday she hoped people would forgive her daughter, saying: "Yoo Ra is not such a bad person. I hope people forgive her so that she may live the rest of her life in a right manner."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Choi's daughter returns to face questioning'. Print Edition | Subscribe