It all started with fight over puppy: Whistle-blower

Mr Ko, who has become a hero to many in South Korea, says an argument he had with Choi in 2014 led him to expose her ties to Ms Park.
Mr Ko, who has become a hero to many in South Korea, says an argument he had with Choi in 2014 led him to expose her ties to Ms Park.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

SEOUL • Did a fight over a puppy lead to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun Hye? A whistle-blower whose account has riveted South Koreans says it did.

Mr Ko Young Tae, the whistle- blower, told a parliamentary hearing last week that he had an argument with Ms Park's close friend Choi Soon Sil over walking Choi's daughter's puppy one day in 2014.

He said Choi became upset when she found the dog alone at his home after he had gone out to play golf.

"She was angry that I left the dog alone, and we had a fight."

Mr Ko, 40, a former Asian Games gold medal fencer, said that afterwards, he decided to expose Choi's ties with Ms Park to local news media. Choi has since been indicted on charges of extorting tens of millions of dollars from big businesses.

He had apparently videotaped Choi in 2014 giving orders to two presidential aides as if they were servants. In one scene that went viral, one of the aides wiped his smartphone on his shirt before handing it reverentially to Choi.

The footage, aired in October, left little doubt about her influence over Ms Park.

Mr Ko was also said to have an advance copy of Ms Park's itinerary for an overseas trip that Choi had received; it showed that the President wore certain colours on certain days based on Choi's recommendations.

He has become a hero to many in South Korea.

"You opened Pandora's box," Mr Sohn Hye Won, an opposition lawmaker, said during the hearing.

Local media reported that Mr Ko used to work at a Seoul "host bar", where male prostitutes cater to female clients, before he befriended Choi, 60, in 2012. In his testimony, he denied that he and Choi had been a couple.

Mr Ko said he handed the video footage to TV Chosun last year, but it was not broadcast until Oct 25.

A day earlier, on Oct 24, the rival cable channel JTBC broadcast what was considered the biggest media scoop connected to the scandal.

One of its reporters obtained a discarded tablet computer that it said had belonged to Choi. Files discovered there included drafts of 44 speeches and statements that Ms Park had given between 2012 and 2014, as a candidate and later as president. Many passages were marked in red.

Mr Ko said Choi's behaviour made him believe she was the most powerful person in Ms Park's government.

"She insulted me and acted as if her underlings were subhuman."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'It all started with fight over puppy: Whistle-blower'. Print Edition | Subscribe