Seoul's Culture Ministry projects under review

Choi Soon Sil (centre) is surrounded by the media as she arrives at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office in Seoul, on Oct 31, 2016.
Choi Soon Sil (centre) is surrounded by the media as she arrives at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office in Seoul, on Oct 31, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL • The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has launched a task force to review projects linked to a well-known music video director.

This came following reports that the ministry was under the direct control of Mr Cha Eun Taek and his friend Ms Choi Soon Sil, the woman at the centre of South Korea's biggest political scandal.

Mr Cha is widely referred to as the "crown prince" of the culture sector due to his meteoric rise to fame after being appointed as a member of the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment in 2014. Ms Choi had recommended him for that position, said local media.

Based on accounts from former officials, a web of Mr Cha's close acquaintances "took over" the Culture Ministry, reported the Korea Herald.

In August 2014 former Culture Minister Yoo Jin Ryong was fired and six high-ranking Culture Ministry officials were asked to resign en masse.

Mr Yoo was succeeded by Mr Kim Jong Deok, director Cha's professor at Hongik University and a former business associate. Mr Kim stepped down in September.

A former head of the Korea Tourism Organisation recently claimed he was replaced last April because he refused to appoint Mr Cha to head the Milano Expo organising committee, reported the Herald.

Korea Times noted that Mr Cha, who is overseas, had intervened in about 20 government projects.

One of them is the 90.3 billion won (S$109 million) Culture Creation Convergence Belt project, which includes a creative convergence centre, a creative venture centre, an academy and a cluster of cultural performance facilities.

The project was supervised by Song Sung Gak, president of the Korea Creative Content Agency, who is suspected of being close to Mr Cha. Mr Song submitted his resignation earlier this week.

The prosecution has raided three companies run by Mr Cha over allegations that the firms landed commercial contracts from state-run companies and conglomerates through personal connections.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2016, with the headline 'Seoul's Culture Ministry projects under review'. Print Edition | Subscribe