Park Geun Hye’s former aides quizzed over blacklisting left-wing artists

Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki Choon appearing at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul on Jan 22, 2017. PHOTO: EPA
Former culture minister Cho Yoon Sun appearing at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul on Jan 22, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The special counsel investigating the power-abuse scandal surrounding President Park Geun Hye quizzed her former chief of staff and culture minister on Sunday (Jan 22) as the high-profile probe dug into the president's alleged blacklisting of cultural figures.

Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki Choon and culture minister Cho Yoon Sun, both detained since last weekend for their suspected role in the creation of the list, appeared for questioning at special prosecutor Park Yong Soo's office in Southern Seoul.

The prosecutor's team is trying to uncover who masterminded the administration's alleged crackdown on around 10,000 artists deemed unfriendly to the government.

The list is said to have some 10,000 names, including "Oldboy" director Park Chan Wook and poet Ko Un, whose name frequently surfaces for the Nobel literature prize.

The investigators suspect that President Park may have been a key player in this.

The president, impeached by the parliament in late December over the scandal, has vehemently denied her involvement in the making of such a list.

"The president has never ordered anyone to create a blacklist," her lawyer Lee Jung Hwan said in a statement on Saturday.

"Any attempt by some specific groups to manipulate public opinions must be stopped. Media outlets should also release reports based on the truth."

Special prosecutor's team has reportedly stepped up inquiries into allegations that Park instructed Kim and Cho to secretly crack down on leftwing artists amid rising criticism of Park's inaction to the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 that claimed about 300 lives.

The blacklisting of artists can be another potential element of the case against Park in her ongoing impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court.

Its existence was raised last year by former Culture Minister Yoo Jin Ryong, who claimed that Park's administration had been monitoring artists unfavourable to the president.

Lawmaker Do Jong Hwan of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea claimed that it was created after the 2014 ferry sinking to rein in artists and celebrities who criticised the government's failure to cope with the disaster that killed about 300 people.

It was used to exclude those critical of Park from state funding.

Both Kim and Cho are said to be denying all allegations regarding the list.

Park's powers have been suspended since a motion of impeachment of Park under allegations of corruption and abuse of power was passed last December in South Korea's biggest political corruption scandal involving her close friend Choi Soon Sil.

The jailed confidante of Park is also fighting her own criminal trials under charges extorting roughly 77.4 billion won ($64.7 million) from the nation's top businesses with ties to the president.

Also on Sunday, Choi's niece Jang Si Ho was questioned separately at the special prosecutor's office under allegations of coercing donation from Samsung Group for the Korea Winter Sports Elite Centre run by Jang.

Jang admitted the allegation at the earlier parliamentary hearing and said it was all Choi's idea.

The niece was also questioned on whether the donations by Samsung were made in exchange for political support of a controversial merger deal between its affiliates.

The probe team is poised to summon Park in early February to question her on her role both in the crackdown of anti-Park artists and her colluding with Choi to solicit corporate donations for their own gains.

The court will decide in the coming months whether to end Park's presidency on the allegations filed by the National Assembly.

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